Pat Shingleton: "Engineering a River"
A week's worth of rain has kept us under a Flash Flood watch with isolated warnings in some locations. At the end of April and in early May, 2011, we monitored and reported on the rise of the Mississippi. Snow melt in the north and flooding rains through the Midwest resulted in the opening of the Morganza Spillway on May 14, 2011. In 1848, Lowell, MA was the center of the American textile industry. Much of the city's success was due to James Bicheno Francis, chief engineer of locks and canals. Francis constructed a five-mile system of canals, drawing water from the Merrimack River, providing an uninterrupted source of power to a dozen textile mills. Changes in the river level were controlled by a system of gates and locks built into the canal network. He compiled a history of floods on the Merrimack and discovered that during a major flood in 1785, the river crested above Pawtucket Falls at 13 feet 6 inches. With the city of Lowell 30 feet lower than the falls, Francis realized that if the river soared to crest levels again; surging water would funnel through the canals, destroying the heart of the city. The engineer proposed building a massive gate to prevent this tragedy. How he did it and the response in Sunday's column.