• 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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Let’s Not Let a Good Flood Go to Waste.


Dec. 20, 2015 image of mud from the Flood of 2015 steaming out of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Deltas

Levees on the Lower Mississippi from Cape Girardeau to the Delta have prevented the river from depositing it sediment, mud, in the Gulf of Mexico and building land. Westward trending longshore currents carry mud, spilling out of the Mississippi Delta into deep Gulf waters, where it is lost. Many factors have contributed to Louisiana’s land loss in the last century. The Mississippi levees are just one, but an important one.

However, mud, streaming out of the Atchafalaya River and the Wax Lake Outlet, is being deposited in shallow Gulf waters and building land. Hence, come the Flood of 2015, the Corps of Engineers have opened the Old River Control Structure, designed to keep the Mississippi from diverting to the Atchafalaya, in order to allow good Mississippi mud to build a delta in the western Louisiana Deltaic Plain.

The Flood of 2015



Old River Control Structure

Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Old River Control Structure for the first time since 2011. Built to prevent the Mississippi from diverting permanently to the Atchafalaya, the Corps opens the structure to release water from the flooded Mississippi. Below are several articles about the Structure from my archives.

The Atchafalaya Floodway: Part 1

The Flood of 2011 and the Atchafalaya Delta

The Ratio of the Atchafalaya to the Mississippi

Infrastructure–Old River Control

A Complete History of the Old River Control Structure and the Flood of 1973

The Corps will make decisions about opening the Morganza and Bonne Carre Floodways at the

In addition I am including articles on both floodways from 2011.

The Morganza Floodway Opened to Relieve Pressure on the Mainline Levees


Atachafalaya after Morganza Opening: Where the water goes; when does it get there.

The Bonnet-Carre DiversionStructure to Divert Water from the Mississippi North of New Orleans/

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.


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.


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.


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