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Missouri Environmental Education News June 2016

Mississippi River Channels

Historical Mississippi River Channels show the challenge of trying to get a river to follow a straight line. Image by Harold Fisk, 1940. US Army Corps of Engineers

Board Member Brendan Hellebusch, an engineering major at MU, writes about using engineering to try and manage rivers.


Managing A River Is Harder Than It Looks

For decades, the Mississippi and the Missouri river played a vital role in our nation’s economy as a major trade route. But the rivers we are familiar with today would be nearly unrecognizable to our forebears. When steamboats were introduced and trade increased, these rivers were cleared of snags and woody debris that posed a danger or slowed down travel. Soon it became clear that the rivers were still not fast enough for larger boats and that it was in the nation’s best interest to channelize them.

Natural rivers dissipate energy through meanders, but with channelization, their natural energy dissipation systems are removed, increasing the probability of flooding. To solve that problem, engineers constructed levees to control and divert flood water. Unfortunately , it gave the public the perception and belief that humans can control the river’s water and subsequently, a false sense of security.

It was only twenty years ago that the Mississippi experienced one of the largest flooding events in history, causing widespread levee failures and costing $20 billion in damages and 48 people’s lives. With the recent flooding of the Meramec this past winter, we should be cautious not to continue developing within floodplains. Let the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers serve as an example of the limitations and consequences that arise when we use engineering to alter ecosystem services for economic gain.

  1. A brief History and Summary of the effects of River engineering and Dams on the Mississippi River System and Delta.

The MEEA List of Things to Know About Managing a River

EE Resources Related to Managing a River

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