Floodwaters endanger thousands of Delta croplands

Floodwaters endanger thousands of Delta croplands
Flooding along the Mississippi River. (Source: ABC/NBC)

PHILLIPS COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - Problems farmers are facing from floodwaters are far from over.

According to an article by Talk Business and Politics, the Mississippi River basin is continuing to swell. Phillips County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Robert Goodson said those floodwater levels are leaving surrounding fields not only soaked, but unable to be worked. Goodson said as much as 40,000 acres of crops in the Delta region could be affected by the flooding.

The issue is more than just high water leaving its bank. The river water is soaking through the soil, penetrating the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer that underlays parts of eastern Arkansas, southeast Missouri, northern Louisiana, western Tennessee, and western Mississippi.

The water source has been invaluable to Arkansas agriculture over the years. In 2000, around 34 billion liters of water a day was drawn from the aquifer. Farmers have relied on it to provide irrigation, giving water when the pumps turn on.

Since the Mississippi River has flooded, Goodson and others have discovered that water is coming up those pumps as the river water puts pressure on underground supplies. The water has to go somewhere and the holes through the soil for the wells is an easy outlet.

This “seep water” comes up through the ground when the river level is high and doesn’t drain because there’s no place for it to go. Goodson said around 20,000 to 40,000 acres are being affected.

“The larger volume of water increases the height of the water in the river,” Assistant Director at the U.S. Geological Survey Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center Jeannie Barlow said. “As the height goes up, we see river levels go up, and it is moving steadily into the aquifer.”

Barlow said the water flows downhill, but the river level is higher than the aquifer and it has to go somewhere.

“It gets tricky,” Barlow said. “The water goes different places. Some of the water goes into bank storage, where you see the seep water occur.”

These increased water levels could also create sand boils, where water pressure boils up to the surface in a pool of sand and water. However, Goodson said with the river levels going down, this is unlikely.

“The water most definitely puts farmers behind,” Goodson said. “For some, it is almost as much as tow months. All they can do is wait for the river to go down.”

Goodson said one option for farmers facing this is prevented planting insurance claims.

“We don’t fully understand what the impact of this flooding will be yet,” Barlow said. “The effects differ from place to place.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Mississippi River at Helena is estimated to crest on Thursday, June 13 at 40.5 feet, above the 40-foot flood stage.

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