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Inmates and Residents Sandbagging Levee Seepage

By Sandra Knispel | Published 16 May 2011 04:22pm | comments
Inmates from the Bolivar County Correctional Facility in Cleveland are filling sandbags to help contain backwater seepage behind the levee north of Round Lake in Bolivar County.

While the mainline levees so far are staving off the water masses pushing down the Mississippi River, backwater seepage is creeping into farmland up and down the Delta. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more.

Blues legend Bessie Smith recorded "Backwater Blues" right before the catastrophic Mississippi flood of 1927… singing about the flooding of the lowlands in the Delta.

While this time around, so far few have had to be evacuated here in Mississippi, backwater seepage is becoming a growing problem.

[Nat sound water flowing]

That’s the sound of water running through a sandbagged emergency spillway out of a make-shift weir right behind the Mississippi levee north of Round Lake in Bolivar County. The water is now running right into a farmer’s field, flooding his crops. Hank Burdine with the Mississippi Levee Board has been travelling up and down the Delta for the last few days to hotspots like these.

“It is a natural occurrence in the levee system when you have high water on one side of the levee, water seeps underneath the levee… and as you see over here this is underground seepage coming from the river," Burdine explained. "It’s not bubbling up anywhere, it’s just seep water.”

Burdine’s main concern are now so-called sand boils.

“As long as that water is clear it’s ok, it’s not bringing any sand. But if it boils up in a little hole like this and it starts bringing dirt balls, clay balls and sand through there then we’ve got a problem, because it has a possibility of undermining the mainline levee.”

These dangerous sand boils have sprung up in several locations already, keeping the levee board busy.

[Nat sound sandbagging, laughter, talking]

Here, right behind the Mississippi levee, 22 inmates from the Bolivar County Correctional Facility in Cleveland are filling sand bags to be passed hand-to-hand into the overflow area to contain new seepage.

“I just like helping people anyway. Cause the sheriff and all they [sic] helps me out anyway and I’m just that kind of guy. I just like helping folks.” [Reporter: and it also takes days off your sentence, correct?] “Yes, ma'm. I don’t know how many but everythings help [sic].”

Michael Francis is serving the last few months of his original 12-year sentence for bank robbery, now reduced to four years. In July, he’ll be a free man again.

“Out here you get to meet other people. You get the sense of freedom out here,' Francis said. "And helping people anyway. It all comes together." [Reporter: what gives you the sense of freedom?] "The smell, the fresh air. Standing on outside ground, and driving on the highway once again is really nice… really nice.”

Barely an hour later, Levee Commissioner Burdine is on his way to Chatham in Washington County. Again backwater seepage is running into fields, destroying crops. Here, no inmates are on hand. Instead, the levee board put out a call to neighboring farmers to help with yet another sand boil.

“I think everyone is anxious," said Lisa Nipper. "Everyone in this area up and down the river is beginning to get on edge, nerves are frayed.”

Nipper’s family farm sits just 1.5 miles away from the levee. Now she and some 50 other residents are filling sandbags to stop a possible levee erosion.

[Reporter: “Your coming out is not just a community effort, you’re protecting [also] your own property….?”] “Protecting our houses, our property, the businesses around here, our lake. Just our way of life," Nipper explained. "Most everybody in this area up and down the levee has either corns or beans under seep water.”

While the floodwater on the Mississippi is expected to crest this week as it moves through the Magnolia state, the backwater seepage will take much longer to drain off, rotting in its wake thousand of acres of crops right here in the Delta. Not for the first time, of course, and certainly not for the last…that Bessie Smith already knew well back in 1927.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Greenville.


Inmates from the Bolivar County Correctional Facility in Cleveland are filling sandbags to help contain backwater seepage behind the levee north of Round Lake in Bolivar County.



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