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LMRD 739, Saturday, August 31, 2019
The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Mississippi River"

*Note: re-sending with a few corrections and some new photos...


The view down the street from my parent's house in 2016 - when the Sunflower River crested around 25.5' on the Clarksdale gage. It crested not much lower in 2019. And this same house got flooded -- again.

2,000 Years Old, in River Years



Seen above, the Quapaw Canoe Company home base flooded out in 2016; it happened again this year, (!) in 2019. So, two 1,000 year floods in 3 years. I am now 2,000 years old.... I feel like it too.

I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy for all of those flooded out in 2019 all over the greater Miss River Valley: all of those inhabiting and making their livings along the Arkansas, the Missouri, the Upper Miss, the Yazoo Delta -- and everywhere else across the big drainage.


Webbers Falls, OK, flooded out by the highest waters ever along the Arkansas River, June, 2019

I know what it feels like. We were flooded out in 2016 by catastrophic rainfall in the Sunflower River basin. And then it happened again this year, in 2019. We have lost two entire business seasons as result. Many farmers across the big valley lost an entire growing season in 2019. It takes a long time to recover from the mud, the mold, the mental anguish.


Our recovery efforts 2016 and 2019 have been done from canoes, kayaks and paddleboards -- many of you helped us out!

If you happen to live along the Sunflower River, like us, you are now 2,000 years old — in "river flood years' that is. Maybe this is something like "dog years" or "cat years?" A new measurement for marking our lives? For those who get flooded out the recovery can be long and difficult, if at all.

There is one distinct difference for us: we moved our home base out of the Sunflower River floodplain in 2016 and will never move back. So 2019 was not as painful. We did lose a season of postponed or cancelled trips. But we didn't suffer as serious a flood recovery.


Sallisaw Park Lake, OK, June 2019

A Long Summer's Journey Across the Big Valley

This summer my daughter and I traveled to the far ends of the big valley in pursuit of various destinations involving camp and family, and everywhere we went were signs of flooding rivers and lakes, and towns and communities in recovery.



Concordia Quebecoix French Canoe Camp in Voyageur's Nat'l Park

The Route:

O
ur journeys took us up the Arkansas River Valley through Oklahoma, Texas, and into Colorado, and then slightly over the divide into the Rio Grande, and the Chama, and then another divide into the Animas, the Dolores, the Uncompahgre, all feeding the Colorado, then back into the Mississippi drainage along the headwaters of the Arkansas, the South Platte, the North Platte, then to Turtle River Lake, the Upper Miss, and then over another divide into Voyageur's Nat'l Park (drains to Hudson Bay), then the back down along the Minnehaha, the Minnesota, and then finally across the Ohio River Valley, to the Tennessee, and the Elk River.

We experienced communities recovering and rebuilding from 2019 flooding in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and also the Lower Missouri River Valley. Towns like Webbers Falls, OK, full of mud and driftwood, and all of the bridges shut down along the Missouri in between Omaha, NE, and St. Joseph, MO.

I am from a 5-generation Colorado family. My younger brother Chris hosted a Ruskey family reunion at his Arkansas River headwaters home. Emma and I drove out -- the beginning of what became an epic roundabout-the-entire-Mississippi-River-Drainage drive!

I hope you don't mind -- I have decided to share this with y'all to illustrate 2019 flooding across the big valley, and where it is coming from. (PS: Sorry for the poor photo quality -- I dropped my iphone in the water, and everything has been blurry since)


The Animas River flooding around Silverton, CO. Late Spring/Early summer snows in the Colorado Rockies turned into swollen flooding rivers.


Avalanche Chutes 100 feet or thicker melting into the Bear Creek headwaters of the Uncompahgre River above Ouray, CO


Emma getting pelted by a surprise snowstorm on the top of Monarch Pass in June 2019 (note: Dave Cornthwaite's paddleboard -- we could have used as a sleigh!)


Summer snow showers over the headwaters of the Arkansas River -- Collegiate Range near Buena Vista, CO


The raging Arkansas River near Granite, CO - 1400 miles above its Miss River confluence


Swimming the Arkansas with my nieces, nephews and daughter. I am a swimmer. I swim wherever I go. Unfortunately, thousands of miles later, at the end of this journey, water conditions disallowed contact and was lethal to wildlife (Mississippi Sound algal bloom).


The highest point in Colorado, Mt. Elbert (14,439 feet), is also the highest source of the entire Mississippi Valley, via the Arkansas. Its backside drains to the Colorado.


Fremont Pass, summer solstice, June 22, 2019, drains both ways


Headwaters of Clear Creek -- my mother's birthplace waters! -- and major tributary of the South Platte


The Colorado River seemed relatively calm -- here near Kremmling, CO


Voyageur Canoes, duck family, bald eagle, 2 loons, on "La Lac du La Rivier du la Turtu," (Turtle River Lake -- Mississippi River headwater source) Concordia French Canoe Camp -- in the Quebecoix voyageur tradition!


Mergenser family and 2 white pelicans on Lake Bemidji, MN (near the source of the Mississippi River at lake Itasca).


Minnehaha Falls, MN, August 2019


Eagles fishing at dusk, Minnesota River Confluence


The Mississippi River flowing through a shallow canyon in between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN (Mississippi National River and Recreation Area). The Poet Wang Ping paddles this stretch of river every day!


Rainstorm over the Elk River Valley from near Sewannee, TN. The Elk flows into the Tennessee River Valley.

Journey's End: and then all the way back around, back home to Mississippi, where we were greeted with this sign:


Algal bloom: no swimming along the beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast


Algal bloom: no swimming along the beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast

I am a swimmer. I have been swimming at every waterway along our roadtrip. Even the icy ones. This was a sad way to end out epic adventure, but perhaps appropriate to illustrate the way it is all connected.

The Mississippi River at New Orleans has been at or above flood stage (11.0) for 292 days this year, requiring a 2-time opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. The extra 250,000 cfs of nutrient-rich floodwaters pouring through Lake Ponchartrain and into the Mississippi Sound, destroyed the oyster beds for the year, killed hundreds of dolphins, and chased all the fish who could flee deeper into the Gulf. And lastly led to a major algal bloom that shut down all beaches along the Miss Gulf Coast. The rivers connect us all.



Postscript and recapitulation: To reiterate, I am feeling heartfelt sympathy for all of those flooded out in 2019, in the Missouri River Valley, Upper Miss, Yazoo Delta, and everywhere else across the drainage. Our canoe company is actually located right on the banks of the Sunflower River. Our home base was flooded out in 2016 by catastrophic rainfall. And then again in 2019. So we know what that feels like. We lost an entire business season struggling to recover. It was said to have been a "thousand-year flood event." We weren’t alone in this. Over 1,000 homes and businesses in the Delta suffered the same (in 2016), and later that same year 160,000 in Baton Rouge. It required a small army of volunteers for us to evacuate, and then cleanup (we needed volunteers in addition to my staff, my family, my wife & daughter). We moved everything 30 feet higher out of the flood zone. We will never move back.

Some of our neighbors cleaned up, rebuilt, and then moved right back to original location. Many grew up and raised their children in these homes, so the attachments run deep. Unfortunately, they were flooded again earlier this year in another “1,000 year flood.” If you live along the Sunflower River like us, you are now 2,000 years old — in river flood years!

Like many landowners flooded out this year, and looking at loss of crop, or other business, we lost an entire guiding & outfitting season due to the flood. Yet unlike some landowners, we have moved out of the floodplain, and removed ourselves from future floods.

So in summary, I would encourage our neighbors across the entire valley to consider that option. To move out. Move elsewhere and let the water flow where it wants to flow. If you live in the floodplain you are eventually going to get flooded. A healthy river needs room to flex its muscles, and then relax. In this vein, we are an advocates for wetlands, especially in public lands, and particularly in the promotion of biological diversity and naturally filtered, clean water, the kind that results from the ancient cycle of flood and fall. We strongly encourage sustainable bio-engineering methods such as notching dikes and reconnecting natural wetlands.

In conclusion, we look forward to working with our friends, families and partners for increasing wetlands across the entire Mississippi River drainage, for a healthier and more balanced future for our families, communities, and global neighbors.

The river truly connects us all.



The author watching beaver and Canada geese at sunset in a mountain lake in his birthplace, the Colorado Rockies


1Mississippi Leader Michael Anderson in a quiet moment beside the Upper Mississippi River


A visit to Urban Boatbuilders in St. Paul, MN


Final scene: our shadows forever following in our footsteps -- or urging us onward? Here in a National Grasslands near Amarillo, TX


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The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company. Photos and writing by John Ruskey, Mark River and others. Please write info@island63.com for re-publishing. Feel free to share with friends or family, but also credit appropriately. Go to www.island63.com and click on "Quapaw Dispatch" for viewing back issues of the LMRD.

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