• 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 Batture Lands of the American Bottom

When I first started work on The Mississippi: A Visual Biography in 1992, I haunted the American Bottom, especially the batture lands, the lands between the levee and the river. I returned after the Flood of 1993 to document the damage the flood had inflicted on the landscape, on the batture lands and on the farm fields between the levee and the bluffs.

Virgil's Corn

The Mississippi flooded in 2008. In the spring there was an intense flood of short duration, more intense that the Flood of 1993, but not lasting all summer. Some of the levees that collapsed in 1993 did again. Some that didn’t did. The levee that protects the American Bottom south of Columbia, Illinois that collapsed massively in 1993 held.

Hurricane Ike blew through after devastating Galvaston, Texas, hit a cold front at St. Louis, dropped several inches of rain in a very short period,  went on to put out the lights in Cleveland, and left behind the second flood of 2008.

Flooded Field in the Batture Lands between the Levee and the Mississippi at the American Bottoms

This field in the batture lands between the levee and the river and at the end of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge near Columbia stayed flooded through the winter, much to the pleasure of Egrets and Great Blue Herons who dined on fish that washed in on  the flood in the spring and again in the fall. They stayed to November, when they migrated south, to be replaced by gulls, who gathered up the leavings.

The river didn’t really flood flood in 2009, but it flooded enough to keep this field flooded. And, lucky for the Louisiana coastal wetlands, the river was high all of summer 2010, because all that freshwater streaming down the Mississippi held back the oil from the BP spill, at least for a while. And the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources opened the diversion structures at Davis Pond and Caernarvon to flush still more freshwater into Barataria Bay east of the Mississippi and Breton Sound to the west. That held back more oil, at least for a while, but killed the oysters in Barataria Bay. The oysters will come back, but it will take a few years.

Egrets in the Batture Lands of the American Bottom

So this field has been flooded for the better part of three years. Last week I decided take a drive along levee road and start at the edge of this field. It turns out the batture lands are flood for several miles south of this field, and probably have been for the last three years.

Egrets fishing in a Puddle

And they are becoming wetlands. Where the water has drained away, wetland plants are taking root. And where the pond has shrunk to a puddle, the fish have become concentrated and so have the egrets.

Lone Pelican at Kellogg Landing

Other fish-eating birds, pelicans and cormorants, fish the batture lands.

Here we are in September 2010 and heavy rains over the last week are draining into the rivers in Wisconsin and Minnesota and they are flooding. So I expect to see the batture lands on the American Bottom fill again, to see more fish wash in on the floods, and more fish-eating birds come to my part of the world, at least until it gets cold and the flooded fields freeze over.

However, it does not auger well for the ducks this year. For, like in the Fall of 2008, the fields that were growing wetland plants last week reflood, it smother the new plants, food for ducks, which need to find high quality food every fifty to seventy-five miles on their fall migration. It is hoped that the moist soil units that are protected behind levees are in good shape, because the pickings in the flooded batture lands may been slim.

Images and Text, Copyright © Quinta Scott, 2010

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One Response

  1. Fabulous Quinta. It was great to see you tonight.

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