The dust jacket of The Mississippi: A Visual Biography features Lansing Big Lake on the Upper Mississippi River, but the text has not a single word about the lake or where it is.
I submitted the final manuscript to the University of Missouri Press with 250 photographs–along with their negatives and scans of the negatives, that illustrated different places along the Mississippi between the headwaters and the Gulf of Mexico. The press immediately asked to cut the photographs to 200, still a hefty number. I cut Lansing Big Lake. I can’t remember why.
Clearly, the book designer liked the image. It is ironic that I did cut Lansing Big Lake, because the lake and this photograph illustrate well the sedimentation problems that plague the Upper Mississippi north of Lock and Dam 26 at Alton, Illinois.
After construction of the dams, the Upper Mississippi, which moved sediment delivered to it by its tributaries, stopped moving it altogether and retained it in the navigation pools, filling them.
What follows is the description of Big Lake as it appeared in an early draft of The Mississippi: A Visual Biography.
Winnieshiek Bottoms: Big Lake
Allamakee County, Iowa
“On the Upper River today, probably no scaled game fish is more fervently pursued than the walleye. Often called ‘walleyed pike,’ it is not a pike but one of the perch family. It embodies almost every plus a game fish can have. It is common but not too common, readily takes either bait or artificials, and is about as toothsome a victual as swims. No matter that purist anglers call it the ‘ring-necked pheasant of game fish’ (for the same reason purist hunters call the pheasant the ‘cottontail rabbit of bird shooting’), the walleyes deserves its colors as a game species. No, Nick, it doesn’t perform any flashy aerobatics when hooked, but it’s a sturdy scrapper with nothing to be ashamed of.”–John Madson, Up on the River, 1985
“Local anglers, fishing for walleye in Big Lake, noted that it was three feet shallower in the 1990s than it had been in the 1940s. It was windier and the waters muddier.
“Walleye are the largest of the perch family, with eyes that glow like cats and strong canine teeth. They spawn shortly after the ice on the Upper River melts. When the water temperature reaches forty-five to fifty degrees, walleyes, both male and female, swim into the shallows where the water is clear and no more than five feet deep, but has a moving current to keep the spawning area oxygenated and free of silt. A large female, accompanied by several smaller males, thrash across the spawning area, releasing both eggs and milt. Ninety-five percent of the eggs are fertilized as they sink to the bottom and lodge in gravel crevices, abandoned by their parents who swim away into deeper water. The eggs hatch in about two weeks, depending on water temperature.[i]
“Walleye and other fishes are losing habitat in Big Lake, a 9,775-acre backwater that is the interior of a V-shaped island. Like so many of the interior lakes that dot the Mississippi, Big Lake was shallow, no more that five or six feet deep, and becoming shallower.
“After the construction of Lock and Dam 9, the interior of Big Lake began filling with sediment. The channelized Upper Iowa delivered high loads of sediment directly to the Mississippi, where it came to rest on the western shore of the navigation channel. The chain of islands that formed the natural levee between the navigation channel and Big Lake eroded, allowing sediment from both the Upper Iowa and the Mississippi to flow through gaps between the islands. The gaps grew larger; more sediment poured in. Fish lost habitat as the lake slowly became terrestrial.
“In the early 1990s the St. Paul District of the Corps of Engineers, closed seven side channels and modified three others with rock liners to reduce the amount of sediment washing into the interior of the lake. The engineers hoped to slow the conversion of fish habitat to land. After high water washed away much of the work that was completed in 1994, the engineers laid rockfill around the side channels that opened onto the navigation channel.
Finally, the Corps made plans to dismantle the levee that confines the Upper Iowa where it flows across the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. This would allow the Upper Iowa to meander across its delta and deposit its sediment there.”
Here is a coupon for 20% off on the purchase of The Mississippi: A Visual Biography: Coupon for purchase of The Mississippi, 20% off. You can download it and use the 800 number, mail it in, or go to the University of Missouri Press site and insert AFS9 in the promo code box next to the check out box.
[i] Madsen, 139; St. Pual District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “Environmental Protection, Mississippi River: Lansing Big Lake Habitat Project, Lansing, Iowa, http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/project_infor/lansing_bg_lake/; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, “Public Comments on the Pool Plans,” #23-25, undated, http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/docs/poolplans/Public_Commentsresp.xls; U.S. Army Corps of Enigneers, St. Paul District, “Desired Future Habitat Conditions for Pool 9, Mississippi River, http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/enviro_protection/poolplans/Pool_09.pdf; Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “Iowa Fishes: Walleye,” http://www.state.ia.us/dnr/organiza/fwb/fish/iafish/perch/walleye.htm.