I was not surprised that the Corp of Engineers breached the Birds Point Levee with explosives in an attempt to lower historically high floodwaters threatening the nearby river town of Cairo, Illinois.
After all, that gambit has been a part of the Corp's Official Mississippi / Ohio Rivers Flood Control Playbook since 1928. Granted this particular play is a tad bit dusty having been used only once prior to this week in 1937.
Back then the plan to blow up a levee on the Missouri-side of the river probably made a lot of sense. Cairo was a boomtown, boasting a population in the 1920 Census of 15,203 or a third bigger than Cape Girardeau to the north. Cairo's location between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers had made it a vibrant shipping center.
Meanwhile, just across the river was sparsely populated Mississippi County, Missouri where the Birds Point Levee is now located. While it was economically reliant on agriculture back then as it is today, far less of the county had been cleared and nurtured into the efficient and profitable farming area it was until earlier this week. That's the result of over 70 years of toil by the generations of farmers who work that land.
But during that same time frame, while many of the residents of Mississippi County were laboring to improve their property, Cairo started an economic and population death spiral that continues to this day.
Different shipping methods and routes became more popular after the 1920s causing Cairo to lose its economic luster resulting in a steady decline in population. Only in the 1940 Census did Cairo show any growth. While its descent seemed to slow during the 1980 head count with only a loss of 5.5%, it has picked up steam in the decades since.
It does not seem likely that anything will ever stop this migration and for a number of good reasons.
There is little employment in Cairo and its status as being the premier bedroom community for Wickliffe, Kentucky only goes so far. Not only is Cairo located in a flood zone, it also sits in an active seismic area on land that is susceptible to extremely destructive liquefaction.
Meanwhile 32% of the population lives in poverty and only about 10% of the residents have a bachelors degree or higher. Those are not demographics that prospective companies want to see before investing millions of dollars in a community.
And on top of everything else, Cairo doesn't even have a Wal-Mart. Figuratively speaking, the city is a dead man walking.
According to the current census, only 2,831 people still call Cairo home. That's a loss of 22% or 80 people a year since the 2000 census.
Assuming that steady exodus of 6.675 people per month continues, the town should be completely empty sometime around Tuesday, September 4, 2046. I suppose at that point, the Corp of Engineers will finally add breaching the levee at Cairo as an option in its Official Mississippi / Ohio Rivers Flood Control Playbook.