If we had a mind to, and sometimes we do, we could take water out of the St. Francis river, hoist it over the levee and into the Mississippi at the rate of a hundred thousand gallons a damn second. That's the figure that was given to me by Bill Duke of the W. G. Huxtable Pumping Plant near Marianna, and that makes this the world's biggest freshwater pump.

Here's a picture (taken from the wet side of the levee) of the plant itself, straddling the St. Francis with one foot planted in the levee on either side. To give you an idea of the scale, my car is in the picture midway between the camera and the plant. It's about four pixels long. There's also a fisherman on corner of the concrete platform at the base of the plant on the left side. You can make out the platform, but the fisherman doesn't even rate a pixel of his own.

Sounds like a lot of trouble just to move water around, doesn't it? And didn't we used to have rivers to take runoff from the land to the Mississippi? As it turns out, there are some pretty good reasons for keeping these pumps oiled. The level of the Mississippi is sometimes higher than the level of its tributaries, such as the St. Francis. Without flood control provided by stations like this one, farming and commercial development in the flood plain would be financially risky, if not impossible.

Now all we have to worry about is the occasional "hundred-year-flood," which occurs only about every seven or eight years.

Since its dedication in 1977, this station has been draining 2000 square miles of low-lying land. That's an area the size of Delaware. That land has a clay pan not very far under the surface, so the water doesn't quickly seep into the water table. It just stands there, which is great if you're a duck. Not so great if you'd like to grow some soy beans or cotton.

Tours are available. Take highway 79 east out of Marianna, turn south on 121 and follow the signs.



A note from reader Mike Huntington:

I know they say the first liar ain't got a chance, but...

That is not the world's largest fresh water pump. The pumping station at Grand Coulee Dam that puts water into the irrigation system does 143, 616 gal per sec. against a 295 ft head. Those figures from a 1938 BuRec publication, and we KNOW the gummint wouldn't lie to us.

My reply to him:

I don't doubt your figures, but...

Huxtable claims to be the world's largest "freshwater storm runoff" pump, taking it out of the category shared by Grand Coulee Dam. Here in Arkansas we sometimes make these fine distinctions in order to have the first, largest, most or best of something. Slice that pie thinly so everybody can have a piece.

When you went to summer camp as a kid, they had a lot of awards in peculiar categories so everybody could feel like a winner. This is an adult allegory to that practice.

His reply to me:

That's fine. But you didn't specify "... storm runoff" on the page. Just "...the world's biggest freshwater pump." If you're going to slice the pie thin, then SLICE it. (All of which leaves me wondering what and where the world's biggest pump is & what does it pump. Stale water? Salt water? Sewage?)

My reply to him:

You caught me in conflicted testimony. The title of my article specifies "stormwater pump," but the text specifies "freshwater pump." My bad. The Arkansas tourist literature specifies "stormwater." I was in error to refer to Huxtable as the world's largest "freshwater" pump.

His reply to me:

One pumps into the biggest river on the continent to make land dry enough to farm the other pumps out of the 2nd biggest river to get land wet enough to farm. Us humans are seldom satisfied.

In the neighborhood: Anglo-Saxon Birth Monument | Marianna museum

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