• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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The Mississippi: A Visual Biography

 

The University of Missouri Press

The University of Missouri Press

 

I recently checked out the University of Missouri Press website and found that the publisher of The Mississippi has reduced the price big time–from $75.00 to $49.95. As the author this is something to celebrate because it brings an important book on the Mississippi and its wetlands–how they were formed by glacial action, how we have changed them, and how we are learning to restore and manage them–within the realm of reason. $49.95 for a book that includes 200 color illustrations is a great bargain. Click here and buy the book.

 

Water, Rock, and the Ozark Landscape: A New Direction

Since I started this blog several months before The Mississippi was published in 2010, I have concentrated on issues facing the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast and it has been a gift that keeps on giving. I have written about the recent drought that brought the river so low that the Corps of Engineers had to blast rocks out of Thebes Gap. The BP oil spill in 2010 was a treasure trove of material for months. My last post was on the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway closure, a bad idea that keeps coming back, the way so many ideas for altering the river and its wetlands do.

Image

In 2001 during a low period in my research on The Mississippi, I ventured down into Madison County, Missouri and discovered the Silver Mines Shut-in along the St. Francis River. I made a great photograph on that October day and returned to the shut-in almost weekly for the next six months, studying the fall of light and color on this place. You can see these images at MissouriOzarkPhotographs.com. At the same time I began making photographs of other shut-ins in the St. Francois Mountains of the Missouri Ozarks.

These days I am working full time on the Missouri Ozarks. I call the project, Missouri Rocks. I plan to devote this blog to what I am learning about the interplay of water, rocks, and the Missouri Ozark Ecosystem. Unless, of course, the Mississippi provides another gift.

The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project

1 Mississippi is hosting a webinar on Monday, June 17 at 2:00 PM CDT on the proposal to close the New Madrid Floodway at its foot. Click here:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8363148575022700544 to register for the webinar.

It’s baaaack: The closure of the foot of the New Madrid Floodway is back on the agenda of folks who farm the floodway and see there land flooded every year the Mississippi Floods. If you remember, two years ago the floodway was opened to provide extra storage capacity for the flooded Mississippi. But every time the river floods water backs up into the floodway at its foot.

It seems that Senator Roy Blunt is pressuring the Obama Administration to go forward with the closure of the floodway by putting a hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

I cut the following essay from The Mississippi, because the issue had been resolved in 2007 when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled. It had not. Soon after the Memphis District of the US Army Corps of Engineers began working to satisfy the court’s objections to the closure of the floodway. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others who object to the project or no more satisfied with it as it stands now than they were when the judge ruled in 2007. These things never go away. This link will help you understand where the project stands now.

The following is the full story as it stood in 2007:

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project

In 1928 when General Edgar Jadwin and the Corps of Engineers designed the New Madrid Floodway, the agency left a 1,500-foot gap at the foot of the setback levee for the release of floodwater and installed a fuse plug levee at Birds Point at its head. The designers understood that the lower third would become a backwater storage area. To compensate landowners for the use of their land, the agency purchased flood easements in the upper two-thirds. That wasn’t necessary in the lower third, which would flood with the river every time. It was the floodway’s role as a backwater storage area that created an uproar at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when the Crops published its plan for the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project, which promised to eliminate backwater flooding in the New Madrid Floodway.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 authorized the dredging of St. Johns Bayou for flood control, the St. Johns Bayou Pump Station, which included a gated culvert across the foot of the bayou, and the New Madrid Pump Station and a gated culvert set in the 1,500-gap in the setback levee of the New Madrid Floodway. St. Johns Bayou Basin is located between the setback levee and Sikeston Ridge. The gated culverts would halt backwater flooding from the river, but assure interior flooding in both St. Johns Bayou basin, located between the setback levee and Sikeston River, and in the New Madrid Floodway. The pumps would clear water ponding behind the closed culverts. The culvert across St. Johns Bayou was built. In 1997 the Memphis District of the Corps of Engineers filed its intent to prepare and environmental impact study of the project.

Environmentalists, river conservationists, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and taxpayer watchdogs: all objected. They balked at closing the last connection the Mississippi had to its floodplain in Missouri, at the $65 million cost, at the damage that would be done to Big Oak Tree State Park, at the loss of spawning habitat for fishes and wintering places for waterfowl, to the channelizing of St. Johns Bayou and other drainage ditches. They complained that the project would benefit a handful of big landowners. They noted that East Prairie in the St. Johns Bayou Basin would continue to flood due to runoff from roofs and parking lots. They encouraged the Corps to find non-structural solutions to the flooding problems, including a ring levee around East Prairie.

The East Prairie Enterprise Community, the local sponsor of the project, and other residents of Swampeast, weren’t interested in environmentalists’ concerns. East Prairie residents complained that a ring levee would cut them off from the rest of the world. Farmers gave little support to the Wetland Reserve Program. They had rejected a 1993 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer to purchase land in the St. Johns Bayou basin for a national wildlife refuge at fair market value. Nor were they interested in converting their lands from crops to timber.

In September 2000 the Memphis District sought to please both the environmentalists and the residents of Mississippi County when it revised its plan. The floodgate and the pumps would stay, but the following changes would be made: the Corps would dredge only the St. Johns Bayou-St. James Bayou drainage ditch, reduce its width from 200 feet to 120 feet, and excavate only one side to avoid cutting into forests. The engineers would not dredge the upper 3.7 miles of St. James Bayou Ditch to avoid the habitat of the golden topminnow, a state endangered fish; would avoid mussel beds or relocate them and set up a ten-year monitoring program. They would set rock structures in the channels to enhance fish habitat; move water in and out of the lower reaches of the floodway and the basin for winter and early spring waterfowl and to allow spawning fish to pass to and from the river; purchase conservation easements on 765 acres of herbaceous land along the channel to replace shorebird habitat; reforest 9,557 acres of seasonally flooded cropland. At Big Oak Tree State Park they would build a control structure to regulate water in its swamps–enough for the cypress, but not too much for the oaks.

Big Oak Tree State Park

Big Oak Tree State Park

The Corps published essentially the same plan in June 2002, but added the construction of the wildlife corridor between Big Oak Tree Park and the Ten Mile Pond conservation area and riparian buffers along sixty-four miles of streams and drainage channels to filter water flowing to Big Oak Tree. Most important, the engineers made the commitment to the restoration of Big Oak Tree, purchasing and reforesting 1,800 acres surrounding the park and restoring the park’s hydrologic connection to the Mississippi with water control structures in the park, a canal with gated culverts set in the mainline levee to allow water to flow between the park and the river. The cost of the new plan came to $85 million dollars and still did not satisfy the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the owner of Big Oak Tree Park.

In 2004 the Memphis District issued a contract for the construction of the New Madrid closure and the pump, but stopped work on the project when National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund filed suit in Federal Court, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.

In December 2005 the Corps published a second Revised Supplemental Environmental Impact that would allow fish to spawn in the sumps behind the culverts and would reestablish the hydrological connection between Big Oak Tree and St. James Bayou through a culvert in the levee.

The Corps pointed out repeatedly that the success of the project depended on finding people willing to sell their land for mitigation to add 1,800 acres to Big Oak Tree State Park or the addition 1037 acres needed for the wildlife corridor and riparian buffers.

In the fall of 2006 the Corps of Engineers started work on the project, even after being told they would likely lose the Federal suit filed two years earlier. The suit came to fruition in September 2007, when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled.

Water, Rocks, and the Ozark Landscape and USAProjects

Several weeks ago I sent out this email to everyone on my email list. It is a fund raising letter for my new project Water, Rocks, and the Ozark Landscape. Those of you who have followed me for the last several years have seen occasional postings on rivers in the Missouri Ozarks. You will see more from here on out for I am working on a new project, a book: Water, Rocks, and the Ozark Landscape.

Once I finish the photography on the project, I will write the text to introduce the photographs with a text that will detail how the Ozarks were formed, how we have changed them over the last 200 years, and how we are managing the altered landscape.

What follows is the email:

Those who know me know that once I get an idea for a project, I’m like a dog with a bone: I gnaw on it, relish in it, until I am done. With this approach I have published books on Route 66, The Eads Bridge, and the Mississippi.

Ten years ago I discovered the Silver Mines Shut-in on the St. Francis River in the St. Francois Mountains in Madison County, Missouri. I spent six months photographing how light and color changed as water ran over the rocks in the shut-in.

Image

Then the project morphed into a study of the Ozark Landscape, using the rocks in the Missouri geological column and the rivers that eroded them as the organizing tools. I pursued the project when I had time while I finished the photography and wrote the text for my book, The Mississippi.

I call this project Water, Rocks, and the Ozark Landscape. Once I complete the photographs, my goal is to produce a book, using The Mississippi as a template.

Between now and July 1 I will be raising $9550 through USAProjects to complete photography on the project over the next year. I am asking you to click on this link, http://www.usaprojects.org/project/water_rock_and_the_ozark_landscape,

and make a tax-deductible donation to my project. In addition USAProjects will ask for a donation to keep their services free to artists. While the donation to me is refundable if the project does not fund, the donation to USAProjects is not.

USAProjects is a part of United States Artists (USA), a nonprofit artist advocacy organization that has awarded over $17 million to America’s artists in the last six years. USA Projects hosts an online community where artists like me can post projects for funding and connect with others who love and support artists.  To learn more click: http://help.usaprojects.org.

The artists who raised funds through USAProjects have been screened and must have received national recognition and awards for their work. In my case I have received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, one for my work on Route 66, which produced two books, and the second for my work on Mills and Churches in the Midwest.

Please click on http://www.usaprojects.org/project/water_rock_and_the_ozark_landscape and help fund my project to photograph and document the beauty of the Water, Rocks, and the Ozark Landscape.

Tough Times on the Mississippi. Maybe not so tough.

The Coast Guard closed two sections of the Mississippi over last weekend, where barges broke loose at St. Louis and Vicksburg, rammed bridges,  and then sunk.

Thursday we had 4-5 inches of rain in Monroe County, Illinois at the east in of the Jefferson Barracks bridge, which was hit by one or more barges early Sunday morning. All that water poured into the Mississippi, causing the first flooding since the fall of 2011. This morning the flood gauge at St. Louis hit 35 feet, five feet above flood level, the highest it has been since 2008. The Coast Guard reopened the river this morning, It seems the sunken barges will cause no harm to navigation and the stranded barges are outside the navigation channel.

The Jefferson Barracks Reach of the Middle Mississippi, July 2012.

The Jefferson Barracks Reach of the Middle Mississippi, July 2012.

At Jefferson Barracks the Mississippi is wide and shallow and has caused the Corps of Engineers no end of trouble since the first began deepening the channel to 9 feet in 1872. Last summer the drought was so severe and the river at Jefferson Barracks so shallow that sandbars were forming between the dikes.

The Jefferson Barracks Dike Field, St. Louis Harbor

The Jefferson Barracks Dike Field, St. Louis Harbor

Upstream of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge the dike field was exposed so long that vegetation took root and got a pretty good start before flooding came along and washed it away.

 

Lower Reach of Jefferson Barracks Chute

Lower Reach of Jefferson Barracks Chute

Last summer the side channels almost dried up. This spring flooding has filled them and flushed out excess sediment. Fish will be able to find quiet places to spawn.

Low Water on the Mississippi and Thebes Gap

Thebes Gap:

Alexander County, Illinois

“Here is a vast ledge of rocks, which stretch across the river in a direct line. The best channel in the middle of the river, in which place in low water, there is not more than six feet over the rocks.”–Zadoc Cramer, 1814

Rock Formation in the Middle Mississippi at Thebes Gap, 2006

Rock Formation in the Middle Mississippi at Thebes Gap, 2006

The Mississippi is running very low. After the Flood of 2011, the river drained away very quickly and the rain stopped. By the Summer of 2012, we in the Midwest were well into the Drought of 2012 and the river was showing the effects. Now in January 2013, the Upper Mississippi is frozen and the system of locks and dams is retaining water north of Alton, Illinois. On the Missouri a similar system of dams is retaining water in South Dakota and too little water is flowing into the Mississippi to maintain water levels for the 9-foot navigation channel on the Middle River.

Look at any aerial photograph of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi. The muddy Missouri spews a flume of silty water into the relatively clear Mississippi. They flow side by side downstream--the Missouri on the west, the Mississippi on the east--for several miles. During the very cold winter of 2000-2001 it was possible to see this phenomenon from the Illinois bank near the spot where Lewis and Clark started their journey up the Missouri: Lock and Dam 26 at Alton trapped ice coming down the Mississippi. South of the dam the river flowed free of ice, but ice did flow out of the mouth of the Missouri. At the confluence the two rivers, the icy Missouri and the ice-free Mississippi flowed side by side in the Mississippi channel.

Look at any aerial photograph of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi. The muddy Missouri spews a flume of silty water into the relatively clear Mississippi. They flow side by side downstream–the Missouri on the west, the Mississippi on the east–for several miles. During the very cold winter of 2000-2001 it was possible to see this phenomenon from the Illinois bank near the spot where Lewis and Clark started their journey up the Missouri: Lock and Dam 26 at Alton trapped ice coming down the Mississippi. South of the dam the river flowed free of ice, but ice did flow out of the mouth of the Missouri. At the confluence the two rivers, the icy Missouri and the ice-free Mississippi flowed side by side in the Mississippi channel. In the Winter of 2013 too little water is spewing out of the Missouri to feed the Middle Mississippi.

 Thebes Gap is the geological break point between the Upper Mississippi and the Lower Mississippi. The Upper Mississippi flows through a rocky gorge from Minneapolis to Thebes Gap. South of there the Lower Mississippi meanders across an alluvial plain.

At the beginning of the glacial age, the Lower Mississippi flowed along the western valley wall through an alluvial floodplain in the Western Lowlands along the Black, White, and St. Francis Rivers.

From The Mississippi: “Geologists have speculated that the river abandoned its alluvial valley and diverted through Thebes Gap, a narrow bedrock canyon in the Benton Hills, through the series of glacial floods at the end of the Wisconsinan age. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, seismologists questioned why the Mississippi would abandon its comfortable alluvial valley to ream a new course through bedrock. They noted that fault lines in the Benton Hills were active 10,000 years ago, and speculated that an earthquake along fault lines in the Benton Hills opened the canyon that is Thebes Gap. Glacial River Warren, which broke out of a glacial lake that covered northern Minnesota and North Dakota and reached north into Canada,  thundered through it, and deposited a classical alluvial fan at the mouth of the canyon.”

 “Thebes at the head of the Grand Chain and Commerce at the foot of it were towns easily rememberable as they had not undergone conspicuous alteration. Nor the Chain, either–in the nature of things; it is a chain of sunken rocks admirably arranged to capture and kill steamboats on bad nights.–Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Thebes Gap, where the Mississippi takes a wide turn into the narrow reach of Thebes Gap.

Thebes Gap, where the Mississippi takes a wide turn into the narrow reach of Thebes Gap.

Mark Twain knew Thebes Gap, and while it is no longer killing steamboats, this winter modern tows can’t get through this narrow gorge between the Upper Mississippi and the Lower Mississippi.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have contracted with Newt Marine and Kokosing, a marine engineering firm out of Iowa and Michigan,  to remove the rocks from Thebes Gap. When they are done there on January 11, they will move on to Grand Tower.

A tow steams passed Tower Rock at the beginning of December.

A tow steams passed Tower Rock at the beginning of December.

The river level today at Chester, Illinois is -0.6 feet, which means it is possible to walk out to Tower Rock and see just how low the Mississippi is.


[i]             Cramer, 173; Harrison, Richard W., “Report on Investigations of the Benton Hills, Scott County, Missouri, in Midwest Friends of the Pliestocene, 42nd Annual Meeting, 19-21 May 1995, 7.3; Harrison, Richard W., “Mid-Continent Urban Corridor Mapping Project,” USGS Project No.: 7160-11, U.S. Geological Survey, http://erp-web.er.usgs.gov/reports/annsum/vol40/cu/harrison.htm; Elfrink, Neil, “Gujarat Analog Response,” Archives of Central U.S. Earthquake Hazard MailList, March 21, 2001, http://clifty.com/hazard/archives/1010302-021954.html; Guccione, Margaret, “Re: ‘Gujarat Analog,’” Archives of Central U.S. Earthquake Hazard MailList, Feb 16, 2001, http://clifty.com/hazard/archives/1010216-111758.html.

Drought, Low Water, the Middle Mississippi, Side Channels, and Fish

The Jefferson Barracks Reach of the Middle Mississippi, July 2012.

Starting in April, I spent the spring and summer working on the third of three articles on the American Bottom in Monroe County, Illinois for Confluence Magazine, published by Lindenwood University. The first, published a year ago, discussed the Hill Prairies and the bluffs that rise above the American Bottoms. The second covered the floodplain between the bluff and the river levees. This summer’s work was for the article on the land between the levees and the river and the side channels that flow between the islands and the east bank.

The side channels provide fish and waterfowl quiet places to breed and rest. Where they are deep, they provide fish with places to wait out the winter, when the river may be frozen, and wait out  a drought, when the channels may dry out. The Drought of 2012 was very hard the side channels and therefore on the fish.

Dead fish, mostly Asian carp, in the Jefferson Barracks Borrow Pit after the Flood of 2011

When I started in April, the coming drought was not really apparent yet. Yes, last year’s monster flood drained away very quickly, leaving fish stranded and dying the the borrow pits on the river side of the levees. But there was still water in the side channels that ran between the east bank and the islands. Occasionally, I would trip over a dead carp, washed up near the bank. The wheat was doing well. So were the baby soybeans.

The young corn looked okay, too, though it would suffer come July and August.

Wherever I came to the bank of the river, there was evidence of last summer’s flood in the dead willows that had been stripped of their leaves during the flood. And there was evidence of the growth of new vegetation. Even with the dry conditions, new growth wasted no time to set started once the soil warmed up.

River Mile 143, June 2012

To make the article work I needed to get to the side channels. Only the Fort Chartres Chute and Island are in public ownership. The rest are in private hands and required permission to get to them. Fortunately, two farmers allowed me on their lands, and one provided transportation to Calico Island. We rolled down the steep bank onto the bank of the side channel.When we arrived the first time, I put my camera to my eye and found the battery had died. I love pixels, but I hate batteries required to make them work. Fortunately, the farmer with the transportation was willing to have a go of it the next day. And it was serendipity, because when we went back, the river had dropped considerably overnight, and we were able to cross the chute, that was too deep the day before, and onto the island.

Still Wet Mud on Calico Island, July 2012.

As the river continued to drop the little inlets you see in the muddy bank above turned into small pools, in which fingerling fish were trapped.

When wer returned to the side channel, we discovered we had run over a catfish, a very large catfish, and rolled it up onto the bank.

Calico Island Catfish

In mid-July Calico Chute still had water in it, but our dead catfish told us it was growing shallower and shallower. Very small fish were trapped in pools that formed here and there in the mud.

A few weeks later I hiked out to the edge of Jefferson Barracks Chute. Its upper reaches were drying out, but the lower half carries Palmer Creek to the river and still held water.

Lower Reach of Jefferson Barracks Chute

I did not get to Chartres Island Chuteuntil late October and found only the plunge pool, downstream of the closing dam at mid-chute, filled with water. When I first hiked out to the chute in 2009, it was filled with water, both upstream and downstream of the closing dam.

Chartre Island Side Channel upstream of closing dam, 2009

This trip the upstream end of the chute was dry. A dense stand of willows, as tall as me, (5’6″) had taken root in most of the chute. Fish bones littered its dry bed just upstream of the dam, the last place that dried out.

A dead gar in Chartres Island Chute upstream of closing dam, 2012

Chartres Chute Plunge Pool, 2012

At low water, an arbitrary number set on the flood gage at St. Louis, the plunge pool downstream of the dam is ten feet deep and the only place fish can wait out a drought or, in good times, the winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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