In 2011, an ocean of water poured down the Missouri River from the Dakotas and Montana. The deluge represented the largest flood to strike the Missouri Valley since 1952. At the peak of that earlier flood on April 18, 1952, the Missouri hurled 396,000 cubic feet per second past Omaha-Council Bluffs. From Sioux City to the mouth of the Kaw River at Kansas City, the swollen river stretched from valley wall to valley wall – completely inundating the bottomlands. A yellow, inland sea sank farmsteads, cropland, and rural roadways. Because suburban housing developments and industrial parks did not yet exist in the river’s floodplain, high water devastated mostly agricultural land. Consequently, farmers bore the brunt of the financial losses associated with that flood. Damage estimates ran as high as $179 million dollars (or $1.48 billion when adjusted for inflation). Continue Reading »
In 1819, the U.S. Army’s Western Engineer became the first steamboat to navigate the shallow, shifting Missouri. On its voyage, the vessel encountered a number of problems that delayed its upstream passage, including sunken trees, sandbars, and mud (which found its way into the boiler). Although, steamboat navigation did not have an auspicious beginning on the Mighty Mo, regular steamer traffic emerged along the Lower Missouri between St. Louis and Kansas City in the 1820s.
In 1831, the first steamboat traveled to the Upper Missouri (the river reach north and west of the Platte River confluence). In the 1840s, steamboats replaced the slower, more cumbersome, keelboats along the entire length of the river. By the 1850s, dozens of boats worked the Missouri between St. Louis and the head of navigation at Fort Benton, Montana Territory. The 1850s witnessed the peak of Missouri river steamboat traffic. Continue Reading »
In late July 2011, Brigadier General John McMahon, (who oversees the entire Missouri River) decided not to lower the Missouri River reservoirs below the traditional base level of 56.8 million acre feet (MAF) at the start of next year’s runoff season. That base level only frees up 22% of the reservoir system’s storage capacity. In 2011, the Army began the runoff season at that level. We now know that level did not provide enough storage space to capture this year’s flood.
For months, McMahon insisted on maintaining the status quo in the operation of the reservoirs. He likely held firm to this position because he had the backing of the majority of the basin’s senators and other government representatives. Those officials almost certainly recognized that a lower reservoir system base level threatened the monetary benefits of the Army’s hydraulic system. Less water behind the big dams in 2012 would mean fewer financial benefits derived from hydropower generation, Missouri and Mississippi River navigation, reservoir recreation, and the apportionment of water to downstream municipalities and power plants. Continue Reading »
On Monday, October 17, 2011, Missouri basin governors or their representatives will meet for the second time this year with Army officials in Omaha, Nebraska, to discuss the future management of the Missouri River. The governors and Army officials held their first meeting back in mid-August. We never learned what the governors and the Army discussed or decided during that earlier meeting because the six GOP governors and one Democrat (Jay Nixon, D-MO) barred the public and the press from the proceedings. Governor Schwietzer (D-MT) did not attend the first meeting because he believed the gathering should be open to the public. He wanted transparency and a democratic process to prevail. He failed to achieve both objectives. Continue Reading »