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Beyond Control - The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico

Beyond Control

The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico

By James F. Barnett Jr.
Series: America's Third Coast Series

Paperback : 9781496852113, 304 pages, 31 maps; 1 table, March 2024

A detailed chronicle of how the wild Mississippi will eventually deliver a cataclysm


Beyond Control reveals the Mississippi as a waterway of change, unnaturally confined by ever-larger levees and control structures. During the great flood of 1973, the current scoured a hole beneath the main structure near Baton Rouge and enlarged a pre-existing football-field-size crater. That night the Mississippi River nearly changed its course for a shorter and steeper path to the sea. Such a map-changing reconfiguration of the country’s largest river would bear national significance as well as disastrous consequences for New Orleans and towns like Morgan City, at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River. Since 1973, the US Army Corps of Engineers Control Complex at Old River has kept the Mississippi from jumping out of its historic channel and plunging through the Atchafalaya Basin to the Gulf of Mexico.

Beyond Control traces the history of this phenomenon, beginning with a major channel shift around 3,000 years ago. By the time European colonists began to explore the Lower Mississippi Valley, a unique confluence of waterways had formed where the Red River joined the Mississippi, and the Atchafalaya River flowed out into the Atchafalaya Basin. A series of human alterations to this potentially volatile web of rivers, starting with a bend cutoff in 1831 by Captain Henry Miller Shreve, set the forces in motion for the Mississippi’s move into the Atchafalaya Basin.

Told against the backdrop of the Lower Mississippi River’s impending diversion, the book’s chapters chronicle historic floods, rising flood crests, a changing strategy for flood protection, and competing interests in the management of the Old River outlet. Beyond Control is both a history and a close look at an inexorable, living process happening now in the twenty-first century.


"Recommended for environmental, engineering, and regional US library collections"

- L. S. Zipp, CHOICE

"This is a fascinating—and, in many places, downright riveting—look at the Mississippi River and the problems and threats it creates not just for Louisiana but the country."

- John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

"Beyond Control translates the complex engineering and hydrologic analyses centered on the Old River Control Complex into a highly readable account of the endless struggles to harness a dynamic Mississippi River with fixed structures. He provides an essential historical foundation for the current technical and policy concerns surrounding flood control efforts on the lower river."

- Craig E. Colten, Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography, Louisiana State University, and author of Southern Waters: The Limits to Abundance and Perilous Place, Powerful Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana