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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch Vol 7 No 6

Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum?

Our congrats to Atchafalya Basinkeeper Dean Wilson who was awarded the 2011 River Heroes Award by Tom’s of Maine. For full story go to:

Note: if you have emailed me in the past 2 weeks and haven’t heard back from me, please send another email, I recently lost all incoming emails. Thanks!

After the Flood

For photos, go to:

We're still drying out here, and seeing the lull at the end of the crest of our highest water since 1937 -- for some locations on the Lower Miss the highest water ever.

Of course, who knows what's coming behind this wave… was this the highest wave? Or is this just the beginning of a long train of waves? Surfers say big waves come in series of seven, the seventh being the biggest & the strongest. There is a lot of evidence that we'll be seeing more flooding in association with global warming. Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum? (Which do you drink, the Water or the Wave?)

As we emerge from the muddy waters and shake off like a wet dog in the sun, several thousand miles upstream in Montana a similar flood scene is replaying itself across the great valleys of the Upper Missouri and the Yellowstone, the Northern Rockies bulging with up to 2000% of their normal snowpack. It was only last week that places like Logan Pass started seeing more snow melt than snow fall. Yes, according to various friends the snow is still falling in the Montana high country; this is hard to believe here in the Mississippi Delta where we have been seeing temperatures climbing above 100 almost every day fro the past two weeks. Whew!

See attached report from the Missouri River Basin. We’ll see all this water in another month or so of course, but our huge valley will absorb it, and unless the Ohio is rising simultaneously, we won’t feel much effect.

Last week the river dropped below flood stage (44 in Helena) and the big sandbar islands started demonstrating their resilience in the face of the highest water on the biggest river in North America.

One by one the islands and the highest bluffs of sand have been re-emerging, its kind of like Christmas time around here for us river-rats, its like opening Christmas presents each time an island reappears after having been underwater for over a month and subjected to the power of the biggest river in North America.

When the wind shifted to a steady northerly breeze, I couldn’t stand it any longer, I closed shop, loaded a canoe and my good friend Brother E drove me out to the river -- a perfect day for a long run downstream. I made a thirty mile canoe run and saw an amazing variety of creation — and destruction.

The bad news: a lot of man-made property is gone or severely compromised. Notably are the places where once-productive fields have been scoured clean, all of that rich topsoil the Mississippi Delta is famous for swept away and is now probably blown out over the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between the Chandeleur Islands and Corpus Christi. You can clearly see how farm nutrients will be leading directly to an algal bloom in the annual Dead Zone.

The good news: the trees are re-leafing and re-flowering and many animals are continuing their life cycles. The willows have an amazing vitality, the cottonwoods following suit -- I was surprised to see them setting forth their annual snowstorm of cotton fluff. There is nothing like the feeling of paddling through a flooded forest shafts of humid sunlight slicing diagonally across the tree trunks and flurries of cottonwood fluff drifting softly in the gentle breeze. The maples, oaks, sycamores, sweetgums, hackberries and underbrush are slower than their willow & cottonwood relatives, but they are displaying the promise of fresh life vibrating under the coat of mud and browned, bruised & blackened branches -- with tiny green buds and slowly emerging tender pieces of green leaf. The first life I found on Island 64 was a beautiful luminescent Green Snake climbing a cottonwood. Turtle tracks everywhere. It looks like turtles have made a quick & full recovery. Later I discovered and then captured a Mississippi Map Turtle. After documenting his presence with a photograph, I let him return to his suntan session on a newly emerged pristine bluff of yellow-white sand. Other tracks I discovered: White Tailed Deer, Raccoon and of course lots of birds. I scared away two Canada Geese, maybe they are nesting here somewhere. Definitely missing was any sign of wild pigs, coyote and beaver. I take that back: I did see evidence of at least one beaver in an area of flooded woods with some beaver-chewed trees. How did he survive? Floating on a driftwood island probably. Last month’s all night driftwood raft campsite with Hodding Carter & Chris LaMarca proved that could be done & done safely! (Note: look for the full story to be published in August 2011 Outside Magazine, available July 15th).

It will be interesting to see how long it takes each member of the various animal families to return to the islands which they must enjoy as much as we do. More then just enjoy: many of these animals depend on Mississippi River Islands for their survival. Particularly the Least Tern. Watch out for tern nests if you are on any river islands in the next two months, they nest in the middle of the sandbars and their eggs are difficult to see, especially in the mid-day sun. Leave the ATVs at home and walk. You won’t be destroying tern habitat. You’ll see more and it will lead to better long-term health.

Precaution to anyone who plans to explore Mississippi River Islands following the 2011 Flood: I did find a lot of unsettled sand, ie: quicksand, surely there will be a lot of places where sand & mud are piled higher than they have been in a long time and they will require a lot of time to settle back down and solidify. In one place I was a little nervous. Also, there has been a hatch of some kind of biting gnat or black fly, its the worst bugs I’ve ever experienced on the Mississippi, it reminds me of the tundra, swarms of flies that will follow you across the water and into the full sun of the sandbar.

Lastly, what were the river conditions like? Even at this somewhat lower level the river is still exploding with all of its famous fury -- in all the predictable places, like the strong currents pushing outwards around the edges of all the wing dams, and the powerful eddies found around the outside of tight bends and along the break points in various revetments. Towboats are busy making up for lost time from their shutdown during the crest. Be prepared for a lot of traffic pushing the muddy water in half-mile long trains of crashing whitewater waves and weird situations in areas of turbulence.

For color photographs of the scenery from a flood-ravaged landscape, go to:

A Random collection of images and impressions of the river scene left by the falling river:

Round Bales Carried by the highwater behind Old Levee and deposited on road to Burke's.

The first thing that caught my eye coming out of Quapaw was that the old levee had been cut in half. My friends the Cliff Swallows were hanging on though -- they like to burrow into steep muddy banks.

Break in the old levee at Burke's -- water pouring into the fields even with the river below flood stage.

Fields of battered corn still draining... Driftwood piled against pivot...

You can feel the force of the water as it was pouring through the woods along Burke's.

The raging water scoured the landscape.

The road out to Burke's has been washed away in places -- and a few buildings are gone --

Meanwhile across the river in Arkansas (near Elaine) once fertile fields adjacent the main channel have been grated down by the flooding river to gravel & hard muds below.

These once productive fields near Elaine Arkansas have been trashed by the flooding river -- all of the rich soil & fertilizers are now blown out over the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula!

Wow, things don't look so good with the things made by man along the side of the river, the old levee, the fields, the hunting camps, the access roads -- what about in the forests and on the islands, how is the animal kingdom doing?

The first tracks I found upon landing on the first bluff of sand I found -- Island 64.

What were these scratchy tracks, something with long skinny claws, rotate outwards with each step...

Oh, okay, it was this guy! Caught you in the act! -- a Mississippi Map Turtle -- enjoying the first sand to be uncovered -- the feeling of the full sun on his cold shell (cold water) -- and life goes on...

Why was the Mississippi Map Turtle digging this hole in the sand? And then covering it up? To bury her fresh laid eggs!!

And here: Deer Tracks!! Amazing creatures -- the deer survived the flood -- either hanging onto driftwood or swimming back from shore -- either way what an amazing creature!

Not surprisingly, old man raccoon has been wandering the newly exposed landscape -- he's a tough survivor of almost any situation...

Who else is enjoying the dry ground? A Rough Green Snake climbing a cottonwood.

And yes, sadly enough man has already made his mark on the otherwise pristine island landscape -- three empty Budweiser Cans jammed onto the ends of a cottonwood that survived the flood -- I would be more upset about this display if it hadn't been so artfully created -- was this some redneck's spin on the bottle-tree?

Is the water still moving strong? Hee-hee, we are talking about the Mighty Mississippi -- and the "mighty" part isn't any exaggeration -- colossal convulsions of water exploding upwards & outwards from unseen depths the raucous spiraling and wave-making!

What about the migrating Terns? (Who come in all the way from South America) Will they find sandy places to make their nests? Yes! They are everywhere busy in their displays of courtship, which will soon lead to nest building...

Bereaved Fishing Camp with highwater mark halfway up its walls.

I'm happy to report that the Sean Rowe Monument survived: Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum? (Which do you drink, the Water or the Wave?)

Elm Tree with its roots & trunk scoured clean & exposed from the flood of 2011

Missouri River Report from Robert Kelley Schneiders

In the nearly two-centuries-long interaction between the Missouri and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the river has repeatedly defied the Army’s attempts at control.

Today, the Army faces its greatest challenge to its regulation of the Mighty Mo.

As of June 8, 2011, Fort Peck reservoir is at 106% of capacity. The lake is so full that water is now flowing through the dam’s emergency spillway. Because the Army does not have the ability to halt the flows through the spillway without threatening the structural integrity of the dam, the dam and reservoir have lost the ability to curtail the Missouri. For all intents and purposes, the Missouri has defeated Fort Peck Dam. Water is just passing through the reservoir and moving on downstream.

But that isn’t even the full story. The Rocky Mountain snowpack in Montana is only now beginning to melt. In places, that snowpack is at 140% of normal. All of that meltwater is just going to pass through Fort Peck reservoir. Then there is the issue of rainfall. June is the wettest month of the year on the northern plains and within Montana. The rains are going to come. The National Weather Service has predicted above-average rainfall for June in Montana this year because of the presence of La Nina in the Pacific. As a matter of fact, Montana may receive 2 to 3 inches of rain in the next few days. All of that water is going to pass through Fort Peck reservoir.

The next bulwark against the Missouri is Garrison Dam, situated 70 miles north of Bismarck. Garrison is a colossus. The dam rises 210 feet above the riverbed and stretches a little over two miles long from valley wall to valley wall. Lake Sakakawea possesses an elevation of 1854 feet above sea level when at full capacity. Today, the reservoir level stands at 1853.38 feet. The Missouri is only inches away from entering the dam’s spillway. With all the water currently moving through the unregulated Yellowstone (53,300 cfs at Sidney, Montana, today) and the now moot Fort Peck reservoir (a 101,000 cfs inflow in Fort Peck’s reservoir today), and the water still to come, the Missouri will surely enter Garrison’s spillway. Once in the spillway, the Missouri will have defeated the regulatory ability of the second of the Army’s large dams.

Below Garrison, the Army built Oahe Dam. It is one of the world’s largest structures. At full capacity, Oahe’s reservoir has an elevation of 1620 feet above sea level. At present, the reservoir is at 1619.12 feet. Like Garrison, Oahe only has a few inches of freeboard left before the Missouri enters its spillway. If that happens, the Missouri will have rendered it ineffective in stemming the river’s greatest deluge. Big Bend Dam near Chamberlain has already had water through its spillway. It cannot stop the Missouri. Fort Randall is the last major Army bastion against the Missouri. There is still over fifteen feet of freeboard in its reservoir before the Missouri enters its spillway. If the river goes through its spillway, the lower valley from Yankton south will have no protection whatsoever from the river. Gavin’s Point Dam does not have the reservoir capacity to absorb floodwaters emanating out from Fort Randall – it has to immediately release those high flows.

The Army is on the cusp of losing the river. Its military officers and civilian engineers and hydrologists know it. It is why they are feverishly attempting to drain the Dakota reservoirs as quickly as possible. The problem is that they may be too late. It is already June and the biggest surge of meltwater has yet to enter the system. At this writing, thunderstorms are brewing in the atmosphere over Montana. The big question is whether the Army’s controlled flood, with its 150,000 cfs out of Gavin’s Point Dam, will be sufficient to drain the reservoirs fast enough and open up additional storage capacity. If it does, the Army will regain a semblance of control along the river. If those releases are not enough, and the river goes into the emergency spillways of every upstream dam, the lower river will face an uncontrolled flood that may surpass anything in living memory. Valley residents can only hope that the Army’s dominoes hold back the Missouri.

Author’s Note: If you use the ideas and/or statements in this article, please cite the source as Robert Kelley Schneiders, Ph.D., Eco InTheKnow, LLC, and provide a link to

Adopt-A-Stream Workshop

Last Call for Hugh White State Park Adopt-A-Stream Workshop!
Only room for three more people!

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation along with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will hold a 2-day Adopt-A-Stream workshop at Hugh White State Park, near Grenada, MS on June 14-15, 2011.

Adopt-A-Stream is a program that promotes environmental stewardship through training workshops, outdoor field activities and by introducing participants to watershed action projects.

The two-day program provides an in-depth study of watersheds as well as hands-on training in chemical and biological parameters important to a healthy stream. A watershed characterization tool, using the latest in Geographic Information Technology, will examine the conditions of different watersheds. In addition, the workshop will:

* Increase awareness of nonpoint source pollution

* Introduce surveying and mapping of your


* Introduce Scenic Streams in Mississippi

* Introduce possible actions that can be taken to

help your watershed, such as:

Storm Drain Marking

Stream Cleanups

Participation in World Water Monitoring Day (WWMD)

Advocacy and More

Who Should Participate?

Educators, land managers, advocacy groups, Scout troop leaders, Envirothon Team Advisors, watershed team leaders, environmental educators, concerned citizens and others. For teachers, 2 CEU credits are available.

Registration Information

Registration will be available on the Mississippi Wildlife Federation/Adopt-A-Stream website; or by contacting Debra Veeder, Adopt-A-Stream Coordinator, at (601)605-1790 or for a registration form or download here. Registration deadline was May 25, 2011 but has been extended until June 3, 2011. If you are interested in attending please contact us ASAP. These spaces will fill quickly.