Mississippi River Basin Model

The Mississippi River Basin Model Waterways Experiment Station was used as a model of the Mississippi River basin from 1949 until 1973. It is 200 acres in size and was constructed over a 33-year period, from 1943 to 1966. It was operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers during that time period.

Flood control structures were built in mass along the Mississippi River after the flood of 1927 and were accelerated after the great flood of 1936. The infrastructure includes locks, run-off channels, and levees. A massive hydraulic model was proposed in 1941, so engineers could model weather and floods, providing them an idea of what they needed to do to mitigate flooding along the Mississippi River.

1:100 vertical and 1:2000 horizontal is the scale. That means the Appalachians are 20 ft higher than the Gulf of Mexico and this scale makes it easier to approximate turbulence. Huge ten-foot concrete panels are sculpted to represent tributaries, lakes, cliffs, bridges, floodplains and other features. Sculpted metal mesh represents dense flora. The entire flow of the river, start to end, happened in five minutes.

Italian and German prisoners of war worked on the model starting early in 1943. 200 members of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps started work in August of that year, and there were 1800 men on the project 4 months later. POWs were all sent home by the middle of 1946.

Some parts of the model were being used by 1949, but it was not finished until 1966 due to construction and funding issues. However, the area around the Missouri River was being used by 1952 and could model the April floods of that year, which saved about $65 million in damages. The model was operational to Memphis by 1959, and that was very beneficial.

After the model was completed in 1966, the entire basin could be tested, and it remained in operation for the next few years. But, the cost of operation and computer modeling meant the model was last used in 1973. That’s when it modeled the Morganza Spillway, showing it could be opened without pushing pollution through New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The City of Jackson took over ownership of the basin model in 1993, with a landmark designation, and Buddy Butts park was also established around the model. However, the model remained abandoned because of the cost to maintain it and was therefore added to the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s endangered list in 2001. Google listed it as a sightseeing destination in 2007 and it is now a destination for urban explorers who photograph and blog about the model. The concrete panels remain, as do the observation platforms and walkways. Students from Louisiana State University were given an award by the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2011 for their plan to restore the park and restart the model for tourists. As of 2013, the model is still overgrown and abandoned, but the park and model are open to the public.