Friday, January 4, 2013

12/04/2013 Low Water on Mississippi

Weather is Again Taking a Toll on the Mississippi River Water Levels.

Read more:

The Green Up Lock and Dam in Kentucky The lock feature used for passing shipping between impoundments which are sometimes at different levels, is to the left.

 Above is a link to WDSU TV's web site in New Orleans. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is again reporting record low water levels negatively impacting navigation on the Mississippi River. The situation which affects south bound export grain traffic and north bound heating oil and gasoline supplies, compounds still lingering cargo back ups and expensive transport mode shifts resulting from summer record low water flows. The present low water navigation emergency is caused by a combination of relatively low water levels in the system above Memphis combined with the effects of heavy ice formation. But there are other contributing causes besides dry weather and ice.

 The Ohio River has long been protected from navigational stoppages and loss of municipal water supplies by a mature system of locks and dams. Dams turn a river system into a series of connected lakes. Dam release features and navigation locks make the lakes interconnected for navigation purposes and for water management, allowing release of stored water to prevent flooding, and to support navigation , flood control, irrigation, municipal water supplies etc. Both the Ohio and the Missouri were long ago turned into managed waterways.

 Before the construction of the lock and dam system the Ohio  seasonally became impassable to navigation during low water periods because of the "Falls of the Ohio". The "Falls" were a low escarpment that could be navigated over by typical river commercial traffic in high water. In low water the  geological feature became a low head "waterfall", and going over it could break apart a tow or rip the bottom out of boats and barges. This had a very negative effect on the export of grain from the Ohio Valley and the import of heating oil and later gasoline. Much of the flood plain had been farmed since the 1790s and cities were growing and demanding reliable flows for water supplies as well as transport. So the free flowing Ohio became a Corps of Engineers multiple use waterway. Locks and dams , and levees and revetments, were constructed at huge expense. The river was converted into a series of connected and manageable "pools".

 The Falls ceased to be a seasonal navigation problem. Parts of the upper river that had been a raging torrent of muddy water in the spring rains and melt off and a dry gulch in summer became placid pools. Fish populations increased and Bald Eagles benefited. Floods became less of an issue, and navigation became reliable. Recreational boating began and marinas were built. The people and the wildlife of the River valley appear happy with the system and the Corps of Engineers administers it under a multi use management plan. The Ohio River management plan, because it considers inland navigation does allow for some draw down of pools in support of Mississippi flows. This certainly makes economic sense in the Ohio Valley because it does their economy no good to ship via the Ohio if their exports can't ultimately reach tide water at New Orleans.

 The creation of the lock and dam systems on the Missouri and Ohio Rivers dates back to days before "environmentalism" to the start of its precursor "The Conservation Movement". The Conservation Movement era generated both lock and dam systems and protected "National Scenic Rivers". During the Conservation Movement era the U.S. Department of Interior system of National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and Ranges was created. "wilderness designation" is a federal legal concept that emerged from the era of the Conservation Movement. The conservation movement constantly sought balance between "preservation" (national park, monument, or wilderness designation) , and sustained multiple use. A conservationist could be in favor of locks and dams for one river system bordered by farms and cities with a settled flood plain, and National Scenic River designation in other situations. The conservationist accepted man as a permanent part of the earth's environment. The Conservation Movement was all about good stewardship and wise use. Environmentalism eclipsed Conservation because it at first focused on the interconnection of the natural world. The original environmentalism complimented and built upon the gains of the Conservation Movement. Where the Conservation movement established Yellow Stone National Park, the Environmental movement noted that the major protected species within the park didn't have enough room for the needs of their life cycle. The original Environmental Movement proposed wildlife servitudes or "corridors" to provide expanded ranges where needed or to accommodate migration routes for wildlife between preserves.  These concepts didn't take away private property rights but prohibited certain practices or even provided subsidies to land owners for either refraining from certain practices harmful in the unique situation of an expanded range or corridor but otherwise pretty standard agricultural practice. In its early days the movement didn't attempt to remove man from the landscape.

File:CairoIL from space annotated.jpg
Confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers below Cairo, Illinois. NASA Photo

  Unfortunately, over time, the Environmental movement in this country has abandoned the conservation ethic entirely and begun to take a decidedly anti human, anti economy attitude. Today its all preservation and restoration to pre- human contact conditions and let the devil take the hindmost human interest. The management plan of the Missouri River is a case in point and the resulting pain to the people in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River Valleys due to the present natural low water conditions is exacerbated by the environmental movement induced unavailability of formerly planned mitigation measures originally inherent in the original Missouri River management plan.

Towboat Roosevelt and 5 Barges
The towboat Roosevelt and grain loaded barges on the Missouri in 1948 below Kansas city and Omaha Nebraska  Photo courtesy Missouri State Archives

 The Missouri River Basin is a grain producer. The grain farmers lobbied hard for navigational improvement because getting their grain out of "The Big Empty" as much of the region is known was expensive being reliant on Rail lines that had no water transport competition to temper rates. The grain farmers of the region had a  difficult time competing on price with the producers of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. The Missouri wasn't a dry gulch in summer and raging torrent in spring just in its upper reaches but rather over much of its length. After completion of the Army Corps of Engineers projects it became more of a series of interconnected pools. There was standing water most everywhere year round, fish stocks improved. Eagles flourished, and many Missouri Valley states began fish stocking and management programs that brought about a lively recreational fishing and boating industry where there had been none. But navigation was still limited compared to the Mississippi and the Ohio. The faster currents even after the pooling effects, narrower channels, more acute twists and turns required unique vessels and led to evolution of smaller barges called "Missouri River Flats". The freeze ups on the Missouri precluded real year round navigation, unlike the situation on the Mississippi and Ohio. Frankly Missouri River navigation while a boon to some grain farmers never became the economic engine that the tow boat and barge industry was on the Mississippi and Ohio. But yet there was an important aspect of the Missouri River System and its original management plan that contributed to the health of the national economy .

Bald Eagle
We often forget that the Bald Eagle is primarily a fish hawk and is most often found near fish laden waters. Rivers in their upper reaches are often dry gulches in summer and raging torrents in spring. The pooling of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers for navigation and flood control produced hundreds of thousands of acres of prime habitat for the Bald Eagle. As a society we would never have undertaken the hundreds of billions of dollars in expense just to save a single species. Eagles and Fish benefited tremendously from the multi- use project.

Once the Missouri River was pooled and manageable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could close off and fill the pools during the high water spring periods relieving the Mississippi of problematic flood stage waters from this contributory source. The Corps could also release water to raise levels in the Mississippi when levels became so low that navigability was threatened. So why can't some of the pain of the Mississippi Valley and its closely connected Ohio tributary be relieved as planned by some controlled releases from the Missouri?  The Missouri management plan was completely changed by court order. There is no nice way to say this; the anti human, short sighted "tree huggers" stole the water using judge's robes instead of a gun ( they hate guns anyway). The new court imposed, Missouri River management plan, specifically disallows water releases  from the pools in support of navigation. The new plan, pushed by lawsuit over the objections of Missouri river farmers, barge companies, electric co-ops and much of the citizenry is focused primarily on benefiting fisheries, fisheries that frankly didn't exist before the creation of the system for multi use including navigation.
Under this system if a pool is too high for the optimum needs of a sport fish population the Army Corps may have to release water at a time when communities along the Mississippi are sandbagging their levees. If pool waters are too low for optimum sport fish production at a time when Mississippi River communities are having to conserve drinking water and navigation has ground to a halt, the Corps may not be able to release water from the pools to aid the Mississippi Valley communities.

 You see the Mississippi , Missouri, and Ohio were connected by nature. When man decided to harness these great rivers to mitigate the destructive and unproductive forces of nature he originally maintained the connection but managed it for the greatest good. Today's twisted environmental movement has cut off a third of the system to favor fish which they like better than humans, fish that wouldn't be there but for the original multi- use plan of the project. Thanks to the militantly anti human elements in the modern "Environmental Movement" the management plan is fragmented and political. Humans are the first to suffer from such, fragmentation of the century old system, but other environmental elements will follow. Of course the leftest element in the Environmental Movement will then offer their solution; knock down the levees and revetments, knock down the dams and pull the humans out. The conservation ethic could have benefited greatly from the environmental insight, but the movement by that name is now anti human, anti United States, anti economic activity, and all too often acting in the worst interest of the environmental insight. If you click on the WDSU coverage of the on going navigation problem on the Mississippi you get some facts, but no background on the political contribution to the present "natural problem".

 Don't get us wrong we are four square behind emissions reductions, preservation of wilderness, expansion and connection of protected primary wild life habitats by wild life corridors and easements. We are for the preservation of wilderness, historic sites, and important natural landscape features. We are 100% for a conservation ethic that is informed by the insights of environmental science. But fracturing 100 year old multi use management systems to manage a major multi state river resource for one favored interest is just plain crazy and sets a bad precedent. Policies that don't include humans as a factor where they are already well settled are anti human. We have a right to be on the planet, good stewardship doesn't require us to jump off. The "Environmental Movement" has been captured by the crazies. Its time for people of common sense to start a new movement based on the old conservation ethic informed by environmental science. Unfortunately we may have to refrain from the use of the term "Environmentalism", its discredited by the present leftist led infiltrators of the present "Environmental Movement". Yet we find it hard to describe what most Americans possessed of common sense really believe in without the use of the E word because in a nut shell what Americans of common sense really  believe in is an environmentally aware conservationism. If the common sense position could some how gain the ascendancy both the people and the planet could survive and even prosper.

Johnas Presbyter, editor

No comments:

Post a Comment