• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

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New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

How many times do we have to petition to stop the closing of the New Madrid Floodway? Once again its closure in on the agenda. Find the petition here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7288/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23677.

Please sign.

If you do a search for New Madrid Floodway in the search box, you will find all my postings on this subject.

In the meantime read this from 2013 if you want to understand how the floodway came about, its importance for flood control on the Lower Mississippi, and importance to places like Ten Mile Pond and Big Oak Tree State Park.

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:

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

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.

 

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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.

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.

The Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri: A Model Restoration Project

Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, from the Lewis and Clark Memorial on the Illinois Side of the Mississippi

I spent thirty years trying to get to the Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I drove there, I rode my bike there, but I never quite reached it. I always found myself lost in a farmer’s corn field. Thanks to the Flood of 1993, the folks who farmed this frequently flooded land gave up and sold the land to the State of Missouri for a park on the north side of the Missouri River and a conservation area on its south side.

Until a few years ago the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was a deep, dark secret. Impossible to get to. There was no way to get there on the Missouri side of the Mississippi. The only way to see it was to find your way to the old Lewis and Clark Memorial on the Illinois side of the river, and even then it was difficult to locate where the Missouri actually streamed into the Mississippi on the opposite side of the river. I was lucky in the very cold winter of 2001 to see ice stream out of the mouth of the Missouri and into the ice-free Mississippi, where ice was trapped behind Lock and Dam 25.  From there I could see how the two rivers flow side by side in the Mississippi channel, the Missouri on the west, the Mississippi on the east.

Mud Flows out of the Missouri at its Confluence with the Mississippi

If you were lucky and could fly low over the Confluence, you could see how Missouri River mud flows on the west and the relatively clear Mississippi flows on the east.

From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

“Two refuges overlook the confluence. On the south bank of the Missouri the Missouri Department of Conservation purchased the 4,318-acre Columbia Bottoms in 1997, after the 1993 flood overtopped a levee and washed sand and debris over prime agricultural fields. The department opened the new conservation area–recreated shallow wetlands and bottomland forests with a viewing stand on the bank–in 2002. The State of Missouri acquired 1,121 acres for a state park in 2001 on Mobile Island, built a short wheelchair-accessible walk to Confluence Point, and planned to restore the wetlands and prairies of the natural floodplain behind it, using native trees and plants.”

Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi as seen from Edward and Pat Jones State Park on the north side of the Missouri River.

From the Edward and Pat Jones State Park you can dip your toe into the Missouri on the right side of Confluence Point or into the Mississippi on the left. And you can see how the Missouri rushes out of its mouth a roils the relatively placid waters of the Mississippi.  Come flood time this park is closed, but when it is open it is a short trek along a wheelchair accessible walk to the tip of Mobile Island.

Confluence, Columbia Bottoms, South Side of the Missouri

Only in the most severe floods is the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area with its observation platform closed.

School field trip at the Columbia Bottoms Observation Platform

There is more to the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area than the observation platform. When the river is down, it is possible to descend the bank into the Duck Island Side Channel. Anglers have known of this place since the Missouri Department of Conservation opened the refuge to visitors in 2002. Maybe, some of them had better luck than I and knew how to get there before the refuge opened in 2002.

Anglers fish from a mud flat at the Confluence at Columbia Bottoms

Once down on the mud flats,  it is possible to hike the training structures that prevent the Missouri from flowing into Duck Island Chute.

Dike or Training Structure in Duck Island Chute

And it is possible to hike Duck Island Chute itself.

Duck Island Chute

The conservation department has restored the floodplain at Columbia Bottoms to fields and wetlands and built a terrific visitors center at the entrance to the refuge.

Columbia Bottoms Slough

Finally, on the Illinois side of the river, the State of Illinois has built a museum and a reproduction of Lewis and Clark’s Camp DuBois from which they launched their expedition up the Missouri River in 1804 at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site.

Reproduction of the Lewis and Clark boat at the Museum in Hartford, Illinois

Perhaps, it is for all these reasons that the U.S. Department of the Interior has named the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers Confluence Restoration Project on of the eleven model projects in the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers program. The restoration project is the work of 40 agencies, both public and private, to the benefit of migratory birds and other wildlife, and we humans.

The New River Gorge: a Trifecta

New River Gorge, Grandview, West Virginia

I had a trifecta: a grand steel arch bridge, great rock formations, and the oldest river on the continent. Last Wednesday, March 21, on returning from a trip to Washington, D.C. I explored parts of the New River Gorge in West Virginia. I started the tour with the threat of thunderstorms at Grandview, where I revisited the horseshoe bend in the New River. Then I drove Route 82 down into the gorge and back up. It was a great day along a National River.

Steel Arched Bridge across the New River Gorge

The New River Gorge bridge spans 3,030 feet across the river, is supported by a steel arch, 1700 feet long, and rises 876 feet above the river.

The bridge and the arch is three times the length of America’s other great steel arch bridge, The Eads Bridge.

The Eads Bridge with Coal Barge

When it opened in 1977 is cut 45 minutes from the trip across the gorge on a one-way road that zigzags down into the gorge, across and old bridge, and back up. For a tourist it is a great drive, down and up through switchbacks that reveal the rock formations that make up the valley wall. I have been drawn to rock formations  in Missouri for the last ten years.

New River Gorge: Valley Wall

And finally, there is the river, running at the bottom of a deep gorge, so deep that the sun plays games late in the day.

The New River

So what does the New River have to do with the Mississippi. After all I have devoted this blog to all-Mississippi all the time.

Millions of years ago the New River, known to geologists as the Ancient River Teays, flowed across the Appalachian plateau. A hundred million years ago the New River ran north into Ohio, across central Indiana and Illinois to join with the Mississippi, when it occupied the modern Illinois River. Geologists call it the Ancient River Teays and some claim it ran clear to the Gulf of Mexico, and if you understand that the Mississippi was really a river of much lesser importance at the time, it did. The Teays was the master river of the eastern half of the continent.

From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

Before the first glaciers pushed down from the north, the pre-glacial upper Ohio flowed north to an eastward-draining master stream and hence to the Atlantic. A much shorter lower Ohio emptied into the Mississippi Embayment. The Ancient River Teays carried waters from the Appalachians to its confluence with the preglacial Mississippi in central Illinois. Pre-Illinoian ice pushed down into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and filled the downstream portion of the Teays Valley with drift, obliterating it. The remnant of the ancient river ponded against the ice in Ohio, spilled over, flowed along the glacial margin, and connected the pre-glacial upper Ohio with the lower Ohio River.[i]

Although geologists today accept that the Teays flowed across Ohio, Indians, Illinois to the Mississippi/Illinois, that has not always been so. Not until 1983 did the Geological Society of America accept observational research and actual research that had been going on for 150 years.

The river was there before the mountains were there. It flowed across the Appalachian Plateau, a peneplain,  and established its course, before the mountains were mountains. As the plateau slowly uplifted and tilted to the west, the Teays flowed down a steeper grade and eroded the land along its already established course. The horseshoe bend you see at Grandview once meandered across a much flatter plain.

All along the valley wall, waterfalls, small and not so small, flow out of the rocks.

 


[i] Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey, “The Teays River,” http://www.ohiodnr.com/geosurvey/geo_fact/geo_f10.htm; Flint, 236; Thomson, 21-23.

 

Town Settlement and Forest Fragmentation in Mississippi

Little Mound Bayou

Bolivar County, Mississippi

“There was, originally, on all the rich hill and bottom lands a heavy growth of cane, growing fifteen to twenty feet high, and so dense that nothing could pass through it. The settler would cut this down with cane-knives or hatchets, let it lay a month or two to dry, and then, on a windy day apply the torch. The flames would burn limbs and even the bark from the largest trees, and effectually killing them, leaving the ground covered with ashes and ready for a crop. Little cultivation was required the first year. A burning cane-brake, with its flames and smoke, and continuous roar, presents all the sounds and aspect of a great battle.”–J.F.H. Claiborne, 1880[i]

Little Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Mississippi

In 1886 when the Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railroad completed its line between Memphis and Vicksburg, it was looking for folks to settle along the line. In the fall of 1886 Isaiah T. Montgomery, a former slave, submitted a plan to railway to establish an all-African-American settlement in the forested wilderness in Bolivar County half way between Memphis and Vicksburg. He chose a site at the confluence of two bayous, Mound Bayou and Little Mound Bayou, near five Indian mounds, and isolated from the racial strife that raged in the south after Reconstruction. He named the town Mound Bayou.

When the railroad approved the plan in the summer of 1887, Montgomery, his cousin, Benjamin T. Green, and twenty of more settlers traveled to their site, where they cleared eighty to ninety acres of trees, brush, and wild cane. They slept on the night train to Memphis and returned on the morning train to Vicksburg. Green built a sawmill for lumber for houses and opened a store, where he sold building supplies and train tickets. The settlers completed their first house in October.

In December Montgomery and Green purchased 840 acres from the railroad a seven dollars per acre. Montgomery, acting as an agent for the railroad, went on to sell forty-acre tracts at eight or nine dollars an acre to carefully screened farmers and business people, willing to work hard and to pay a forty-dollar entrance fee to his town. Thirty families bought tracts. The women and children arrived the following February.

The settlers harvested their first crop of corn and cotton in the fall of 1888. Benjamin Green erected the first cotton gin. Montgomery’s sister opened the first school. Montgomery set up the post office in his house, and persuaded the railroad to donate a thousand acres of land for Campbell College, an agricultural-science school.

Forest Fragment and Rice Field, Yazoo Basin, Mississippi

The settlers who cleared the forest around Little Mound Bayou followed a pattern that would play itself out over the next half-century. To begin with Montgomery and his followers made small clearings in the forest for their fields and their town. As their farms expanded, they cleared more and more land until half the forest was gone. The clearing continued. The contiguous forest disappeared, leaving only fragmented patches between expanses cotton, rice, and soybeans.[i]

The fragmentation process followed the same scenario Sunflower County. In 1888 the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroads came to Sunflower County and sold land to all comers at five dollars an acre in a region of dense forest. The loggers followed, stripping the hickory and oak forest that dominated the drier ridges along the bayous, the sweet gums that anchored their natural levees, and the cypress that took root in the swales between the ridges.

And along with the forests went habitat for the Florida panther, the Ivory-billed Woodpeck, and the Louisiana black bear.


[i] Smith, Archon Robert J., “I.T. Montgomery, “ Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 95, No.1, January 2003, 84-85, http://www.nmanet.org/Managed_Health_Care.pdf; Crowe, Milburn J., “The History of Mound Bayou: A Cradle of African American Self-Government in America,” http://www.moundbayou.org; Chesapeake Bay and Mid-Atlantic from Space, “What is Habitat Fragmentation: The Process of Fragmentation,” http://chesapeake.towson.edu/landscape/forestfrag/process.asp.


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