• 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

    Click to order

  • Catagories

  • Archives

  • September 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
     123
    45678910
    11121314151617
    18192021222324
    252627282930  
  • Meta

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low water on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Threatens Navigation on the Middle Mississippi below St. Louis, Part 1

The Jefferson Barracks Reach of the Middle Mississippi, where the river is wide and shallow and causes the Corps of Engineers no end of headaches. July 2012.

We in the midwest have had a terrible drought this summer and even though we have had some rain since the beginning of August, that rain has not flowed to the Mississippi River. The river is very low and navigation is threatened.  And navigation on the Middle Mississippi depends on water flowing from the Missouri. Let’s start with the Missouri, which in normal years supplies the Middle Mississippi south of St. Louis with 60% of its water. This year the Mississippi has drawn 78% of its water from the Missouri.

Low water at the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, between the west bank and Duck Island, 2009.

Governor Jay Nixon has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineersto trash its plan to reduce the amount of water it releases from 17,000 cubic feet per second to 12,000 cfs from the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota in order to maintain water levels for navigation on the Middle Mississippi. He fears economic catastrophe is the Middle Mississippi River has to be closed to navigation for want of water from the Missouri.

Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, South Dakota

This morning, the flood gage at St. Louismeasured 0.1 foot, Over the next several days it is projected to go up, and down and then way down to -0.6 feet. Any closing could happen when the Mississippi reaches -5 feet at St. Louis.

The Middle Mississippi at Tower Rock just south of Perryville, Missouri.

When the gage at Chester, Illinois gets down to about 1 foot, it is possible to walk out to Tower Rock, just south of Perryville, Missouri. The gage at Chester was a 2.4 feet this morning, which means you cannot walk out to Tower Rock without getting your feet wet.

In the late winter and early spring and extending through the summer of 2003, the Mississippi was so low it was possible to walk out to Tower Rock, south of Perryville, Missouri. Once the flood gage at Chester gets down to about 1.0 foot, it is possible to make the hike.

Should the river fall below 5 feet at St. Louis the Corps of Engineers would consider blasting away rock formations in the bed of the river at Tower Rock and at Thebes Gap.

Update: On the bright side of the drought: with less water running off the land, fewer nutrients are making it to the river, and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has shrunk this years.

The Flood of 2011 and the Atchafalaya Delta

The Flood of 2011 and the Atchafalaya Delta.

The Flood of 2011 and the Atchafalaya Delta

“Artificial levees, extending clear to the Gulf of Mexico, may have made human habitation of the delta south of Cape Girardeau possible, but prevented the Mississippi from refreshing its marshes with its sediment when it did flood. Revetments built of concrete mats may have stabilized the navigation channel, but reduced erosion of the banks, a source of sediment in the marshes. James Eads’ jetties at the mouth of the river may have allowed the river to cut a thirty-foot navigation channel through the sandbar blocking the South Pass of the modern delta, but delivered sediment carried by the river to very deep water at the continental shelf, where it washed away, never to be used for marsh building. Closure of the old distributaries of the river may have prevented flooding in the bayou country of Louisiana, but cut the flow of Mississippi sediment to the coastal marshes. Channel dams may have made navigation on the Upper Mississippi profitable, but they retained its sediment north of Alton, Illinois. Dams on the Missouri, from which the Mississippi drew sixty percent of its sediment, did the same. In short at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the coastal marshes south of New Orleans received eighty percent less sediment than they had at the beginning of the twentieth and eroded away.”

I haven’t counted the number of posts I have begun with this quote from The Mississippiand I am doing so again.

Morganza Floodway Structure

Twice, 1973 and 2011, since it was constructed after the Flood of 1927, we have opened the Morganza Floodway Structure to release flood water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River and Floodway. After the Flood of 1973, geologists noted that the Atchafalaya River was building land at its mouth, using all that mud funneled down the Mississippi from erosion from the Midwest and the South.

With this in mind geologists from the University of Pennsylvania–joined by others from the University of Mississippi, Louisiana State University, and the U.S. Geological Survey–began studying the sediment plumes that spewed out of the Mississippi, the Atchafalaya River and Wax Lake Outlet, and through the Bonnet Carre Spillway into Lake Pontchartrain during the Flood of 2011.

Sediment Plumes from the Atchafalaya, Mississippi, and Bonnet Carre

Atchafalaya Delta, 2009

The Atchafalaya slowly spread a wide plume of sediment in to Atchafalaya Bay, where it is building land. The Mississippi, which is too long and too flat and is hemmed between levees, is shooting its mud over the edge of the continental shelf, where it is useless for landbuilding.

Wax Lake Outlet Delta

Similarly, the Wax Lake Outlet, an artificial outlet from the Atchafalaya Basin, built to reduce flooding in the basin, is building its delta.

What is happening in Atchafalaya Bay is what happened naturally before we reengineered the Mississippi for flood control and navigation. Now that we have done it, we have to live with the consequences and find ways to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by mimicking the river’s ways. The Atchafalaya is an example. So is the Mardi Gras diversion at Bohemia, which opened up into Breton Sound this spring during Mardi Gras.

The Mississippi Ridge at Bohemia south of the end of the main line levee

The question about the Mardi Gras Diversion is whether we are going to keep it or dam it. It is an example of what is being done on a small scale and can be done on a large scale along the Mississippi south of New Orleans.