The Cutoff Plan: How a Bold Engineering Plan Broke with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Policy and Saved the Mississippi Valley


Damon Manders
Contract Historian, Harvest, AL, USA

Series: Natural Disaster Research, Prediction and Mitigation
BISAC: TEC010000

The Cutoff Plan is a story about the triumph of engineering in finding a solution to manage flooding on the greatest American river. For a century, men had tried to manage the Mississippi River to reduce flooding, but most engineering efforts had limited effect. When the Great Flood of 1927 revealed the insufficiency of these efforts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed a plan to provide flood protection to the Mississippi Valley that relied mostly on the diversion of flood down side channels. This plan proved fatally flawed. Not only did it not use all possible solutions, it did not take property owners in the proposed floodways into account. Rammed through Congress by the political machinations of Chief of Engineers Maj. Gen. Edgar Jadwin, the plan was on the verge of failure as litigation halted its implementation, leaving the valley vulnerable to the next flood. Only when Col. Harley B. Ferguson presented a new plan for lowering floods through cutoffs (cutting across the meandering loops of the river) was the Mississippi River Commission able to reduce flooding by shortening and realigning the river. By going against the grain of accepted engineering theory, Ferguson was able to develop a plan that ultimately saved the Mississippi River project, preserved the reputation of the Corps, and protected the valley from potential destruction. (Imprint: Nova)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


List of Figures

About the Author

Foreword and Author’s Acknowledgments

Part One: The Mississippi River Project

Chapter 1. The Mississippi River Problem

Chapter 2. The Failure of the Levees

Chapter 3. The Jadwin Plan

Part Two: The Failure of Politics

Chapter 4. Faltering Steps

Chapter 5. Collapse of the Jadwin Plan

Part Three: The Troubleshooter

Chapter 6. Ferguson

Chapter 7. The Cutoff Plan

Part Four: The Cutoffs

Chapter 8. Experimental Dredging

Chapter 9. Proving the Cutoffs

Chapter 10. Eliminating a Floodway

Epilogue: End of the Cutoffs



Audience: Engineers and engineering organizations – particularly hydraulic engineers and organizations or agencies focusing on public or civil works – would find the historical context of cutoffs helpful in weighing various flood control options. Among nonprofessionals, the book would appeal to anyone interested in the history of the Mississippi Valley, the Corps of Engineers, flood control, engineering, or technology.

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