Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A whole new world of trash

Down in mid-Missouri, where I live, trash and the Missouri River are somewhat synonymous. A common pastime during high water crests is to count the refrigerators as they float by. We’ve been known to spend hours nosing our boats into rafts of driftwood picking out plastic trash before the river levels drop.

At River Relief’s home port, Cooper’s Landing near Columbia, MO., we’ve had five consecutive years of river clean-ups. We really seem to be making a dent…the river is much cleaner than in the past. It has something to do with the relatively low water we’ve had in recent years, I’m sure, but we’ve definitely had an impact on the general background noise of plastic.

So, I had the feeling that the upper reaches of the Missouri would be similar, that once we hit a few towns and tributaries, we’d be knee deep in trash once again.

Not the case, as the MegaScout showed us.

When you look at our MegaScout trash map, you can see the influence that big cities, and even small towns, have on the trash ratings in their vicinity and downstream. But until we hit Kansas City, we didn’t see anything like what we are used to down here.

Near Kansas City, three major tributaries enter the Big Muddy: the Kansas River (the Kaw), the Platte and the Blue. Each of these passes through urban and suburban areas, collecting more than their share of trash on their way to the Missouri. By the time we passed the Blue River (which had a small mountain of trash at its mouth), the banks on both sides of the river were blanketed with an even coating of plastic mulch. Bottoms adjacent to the river were choked with balls, toys, barrels and tires. And bottles and bottles and bottles…

As we progressed downstream, the density of trash abated somewhat, but in certain areas where the river widens out, the amount of trash was still much more than anything we’d seen upstream.

I am most familiar with the Blue River, which empties much of the Kansas City metro area. The Blue River Rescue, a huge volunteer clean-up along many miles of the Blue, takes place each April. It’s been going on for 15 years and every year tons and tons of trash get pulled out of that river. Yet, undisputedly, the banks of the Missouri River below the mouth of the Blue were the trashiest we saw on the previous 420 miles.

Something else about the Blue. Kansas City’s treated wastewater gets put right into the Blue (adding to its otherworldly aroma). What I didn’t know until recently is that Kansas City has a combined storm and wastewater sewer system. There are not separate pipes for what gets flushed and what runs off the streets. When there is a local rain event, the system gets overwhelmed, and only about 5% of the city’s wastewater gets treated. Everything else gets flushed into the Blue, then into the Missouri.

Kansas City is not the only place where this sort of thing happens, and the city is in the process of beginning to fix that problem (more about that in later blogs).

Just downstream of the Blue, a small stream enters the Missouri called Lazy Branch. The creek comes out of Independence and Sugar Creek, Mo., and by the time it gets to the Missouri, it is full of white foam and has a caustic odor of detergent combined with sewage. I will be looking into what is going in this creek to pass that knowledge on, but this is what I can report to you from what we saw on the MegaScout:

Below Lazy Branch, the riprap and sand that lines the Missouri’s banks become coated with a green algae. The smell from the small creek extends for miles downstream. At the sandbar we camped at that night, about five miles downstream near the town of Missouri City, we awoke completely socked in by a thick river fog. Trapped within the fog was that same caustic odor I noticed at Lazy Branch.

There were several places along our journey where we didn’t feel right swimming in the river because of inflows we noticed pouring in. This was one of them, but I admit that I went ahead and swam anyway, ignoring the strange odor.

I hope to be around one day when the Missouri River has gained more respect from those of us that live along it. A day when the idea of dumping our leftovers and undesired waste into its waters will seem blasphemous and people will be angered by the idea. Will you join us in making this day happen?

-Steve Schnarr


At 7:47 PM, Blogger abcnkc said...

Maybe we can get that trash October 7. It has been there way to long. The mouth of the Big Blue is only about 4 or 5 miles upstream from LaBenite Ramp at Sugar Creek.

But by then the Plovers and Tern chicks in the Dakotas will have fledged and the Corps might be running water at Garrison.

So if the USGS gauge at KCMO reads over 12'
we will need to get road transportation for most volunteers. But that shouldn't even cause the Blue River "Frogs" to break a sweat.

( http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mo/nwis/uv/?site_no=06893000&agency_cd=USGS )

As always the "real" Riverfront Park in KCMO is
your's for the asking. KCMO Parks and Rec. loves what we do.


At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is awful. I'm researching an old cemetary near the Water Treatment Plant, and so far it's all bad news. This is very sad. The Little Blue is in poor shape too. Yet money is being spent:

Courtney Atherton Bridge Replacement - Under Construction
The Courtney-Atherton Bridge over Lazy Branch Creek is located on Atherton Road between Courtney-Atherton Road and Whitney Road in Jackson County, Missouri.

The work includes: replacement of existing 29' long steel stringer bridge with a 32' X 13' RCB 39' long and 360 linear feet two lane roadway improvement. Roadway improvements include aggregate base, asphalt pavement, guardrail, structural excavation, and traffic control / detour signing.

Schedule: Projected to start in Spring 2008 and last 4-6 months
Contractor Name: R.A. Knapp
Bid Amount: $431,093.00
Project Manager: Glen Dvorak
Project Manager Phone: 816-881-4499


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