Thursday, July 27, 2006

Contemplations About the River’s Present and Future
Missouri River Relief Mega-Scout Crew

Mile 421 below Atchison

Being the idealist that I am, I envision a Missouri River that has long reaches where it is allowed to meander about its floodplain producing diverse habitats and abundant wildlife. Dispersed amongst these wild reaches are farms and towns that thrive not only on traditional economic pursuits, but also on a thriving tourist industry interested in the history, charm and beauty of the Missouri river valley. Navigation on the river is still important, but is more in balance with these other values.

The river in all of its glory, is in reality a heavily managed and harnessed system; a mere figment of its former self. Infamous for its widely meandering and shifting channel, management focused on navigation has reduced the mighty MO to a constricted, somewhat homogeneous tube of frustrated water. Consequently, habitat diversity has greatly suffered, and so too have the wildlife.

Ahh, but all is not lost; hope gleams on the horizon. The Army Corps of Engineers, through its Missouri River Mitigation Project, has implemented a variety of management practices that increase habitat diversity. Dikes have been notched and reconfigured to provide a diversity of depth and flow velocity. Triangular shaped chevrons are a new ingenuity that provide new habitat. Banks have been scooped out to provide some shallow water habitat. And side channel chutes are now being re-opened and restored. Even releases of water from the dams are being timed with wildlife in mind.

Coming down the river these last couple of weeks, it is obvious that the amount of this activity varies with location. In general, the upper most river in Nebraska and Iowa, appears to have much more mitigation land, numerous dike alterations, and a noticeable amount of chute restoration. As we approached Missouri and Kansas, the river has grown in size, the dikes have gotten longer and shallower, and mitigation lands fewer. My current opinion is that there is less alternative habitat restoration going on down here than there is upatream.

There has been a corresponding decrease in river use. Fewer river cabins line the bank, fewer Marina’s provide fuel and services; the luxury boats and jet ski’s so prevalent upstream are just not out here. While accesses are scattered down the river, there are fewer here as well.

Perhaps it has to do with the river getting larger and more erratic in its flows and floods.
Up north, the dam has more control of the flows and stage heights. River dwellings are not much higher than the river, maybe 12-15 feet. Down here these dwellings would be totally submerged during somewhat normal floods. As the size of the basin grows, and tributaries contribute an increasing amount of flow, the unpredictability of the mighty MO grows as well. Perhaps it also has to do with the combined effects of the several urban areas we have passed through. Water pollution and trash have certainly increased as we have past and left these concentrations of humans behind. Trash abounds below the towns and swimming becomes less and less attractive. River restoration and use is perhaps a more complicated issue down here.

The balance between navigational use and recreational use is swaying. The only 2 barges we have seen on the river were engaged in hauling rock and managing buoys. Despite the pre-trip rumors of ongoing commercial barge traffic on the upper reaches, no commercial traffic has been seen. Locals say there has been very little barge traffic for years. Recreational use, on the other hand, was astounding on the upper river. Expensive houses and boats, and extravagant developments are growing in number. River communities are developing river front parks and facilities, and supporting a growing tourism industry. While not as obvious down river, the potential is high.

As use of the river shifts to a more recreational focus, the need for river restoration activities becomes more justified. However, the other side of the coin is, floodplain development will ultimately limit the types and degree of river restoration alternatives available. If we are to allow the river to reclaim parts of its floodplain and increase the amount of habitat diversity, it will have to be done on long, wild reaches with minimum agricultural use. These areas are starting to come together with the purchase of mitigation lands. Many of them are, however, right next to the channel and do not include the entire local floodplain. This limits the options.

Complicated issues indeed. The Mega-scout has afforded us the opportunity to experience many of them more deeply than ever. We have time to observe and contemplate.

Thus, these musings arise…….


At 10:21 PM, Blogger abcnkc said...

I am begining to understand "blog's" Almost any Missouri River politics is important.

www. Lexington Herald-Leader Posted on Thu, Jul. 27, 2006

Low water in Missouri River irks shippers, state officials SAM HANANEL/ Associated Press

But Paul Johnston, a spokesman for the corps' northwestern division office in Omaha, Neb., said his agency did not create the problems.

"We have frequent conversations with the barge owners," Johnston said. "We have our river experts on the line to talk to them about what's going on. We've offered escort service for any of them that want to be sure they can get through these areas safely."

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said the corps is either relying on flawed target flows that do not provide enough navigation support or simply not releasing sufficient water to meet the targets.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Cooper said...

Our constricted, somewhat homogeneous tube of frustrated water in central Missouri can take some satisfaction from the fact that our upstream neighbors are enjoying the recreational opportunities provided by this great river. Unfortunately this river is largely ignored for recreation in the state of Missouri. We can applaud the Corps of Engineers attempts to improve habitat through its mitigation projects. It is a shame that public organizations with the responsibility to maintain and improve our natural resources can't see or smell the pollution coming from the Blue River in Kansas City or the pipes from other cities and factories. Missouri River Relief's mapping the river and making this information available to the public, can only help solve the problems caused by the neglect and abuse of the Missouri River in the state of Missouri. Cooper


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