I don’t think the farmer who tills this field just east of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge that connects St. Louis County, Missouri to Monroe County, Illinois calls the borrow pit that lies between the levee and his wheat field the Jefferson Barracks Borrow Pit, but I do, because I have been watching and making photographs of it for the last two years. The field and the borrow pit have been flooded for the better part of three years and it really flooded this year. But we had a dry summer–after a real winter with snow, particularly up north and west, and a very wet spring–and the field dried out. So did the borrow pit.
When a levee district builds a levee, it takes the soil for the structure from a borrow pit on the riverside of the levee. When the river floods, it pours water into the borrow pit, filling it. It also delivers two or three inches of sediment to the borrow pit with each flood. Flood after flood has filled this pit with mud. In a really big flood, like the one we had this year, fish swim into the field and the borrow pit. In earlier years, before the pit filled with mud, it was a good fishing pond because it retained water and fish.
As the flood drains away the fish are corralled into the lowest points in the field/borrow pit and the egrets and other wading birds move in and feed on the fish. Gulls follow the egrets. When the borrow pit completely dries out, the raccoons arrive.
When I was researching The Mississippi: A Visual Biography, I learned effort to create the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge started with fish rescue. When the river flooded, fish would swim into the shallow side channels of the river. When the flood receded, the fish would be trapped. When the side channels dried out, the fish would die. Conservationists in the 1920s would rescue fish from the side channels before they dried out. When confronted with the field of dead Asian carp, no one is particularly interested in fish rescue.
However, Asian carp are no the only fish which ventured into this field. So did paddlefish and blue gills.
It has been just under twenty years since the Flood of 1993 when the first Asian carp escaped catfish farms and invaded the Mississippi, clouding out other species. Now when the Mississippi floods and the flood recedes, stranded Asian carp pepper the landscape. Here and there are interspersed a few desirable fish–like paddlefish and blue gills.
The farmer who tills the field between the borrow pit and the river was optimistic this fall and planted wheat in the field. In doing so, he tilled Asian carp carcasses into his field. If the farmer is lucky, the field won’t flood before the wheat is ready for harvesting next June.