I learned, reading the Times-Picayune, that there is little hope of ever reclaiming the Missouri River sediment we once easily accrued at the mouth of the Mississippi. Before 1900, the Missouri carried about 400 million metric tons of silt to the Louisiana coast, building up our wetlands, which handily protected us from hurricanes. Now, we get only half that amount and our wetlands are rapidly disappearing.
The Army Corps of Engineers is again responsible for this sorry situation. The corps built six huge dams along the Missouri, creating reservoirs that contain the sediment. They channeled rivers and tributaries to reduce erosion that creates the needed runoff.
The absence of sediment in the Missouri River is also impacting the survival of the least tern, the piping plover and the pallid sturgeon. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has demanded the corps recreate sandbar habitat with sediment to support both fish and fowl. But how 'bout us?
Implementing various alternatives to improve transportation of sediment to the Gulf coast, including removing bank stabilization structures, dredging, bypasses or flushing systems to route sediment around dams, would be "constrained by financial, technical and other factors," according to the National Research Council's Committee on Missouri River Recovery and Associated Sediment Management Issues.
"It is not likely that a major reconfiguration of the river channel or removal of a large dam would be desirable or acceptable to a large majority of Missouri River Valley residents in the near future," the committee stated. That means, Missourians don't want the river flooding their communities just to prevent storms from flooding ours.
The Missouri River contributes nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers to the Gulf of Mexico, which are linked to spring and summer "dead zones" - areas where marine life cannot exist due to lack of oxygen.
Back to the drawing board!
The full report, Missouri River Planning: Recognizing and Incorporating Sediment Management can be read online.
Your tax dollars at work.