Thursday, July 07, 2016
Subduing the River
There are a thousand good reasons for the wonderful series of dams that stand up and down the Missouri River, from Sioux City to Fort Peck, literally thousands of good reasons. Foremost, of course, is simply water--water for agriculture, water for recreation, water for tourism. In a word, the best reason for all of that hard work is water, without which there can be no life.
But when the six Missouri River dams came they buried whole towns, ended whole histories. Those dams finished stories that would not have ended otherwise, and for the most part decimated the river itself, a force of nature that wouldn't otherwise have been tamed. For most of its 2300 miles today, the river is a lap dog. It flooded just a few years ago when the Army Corps of Engineers, who control the monster, failed to judge the size of the snowcap on the Rockies; but that flood was fluk-ish, an embarrassment that cost millions.
Otherwise, the today's manicured Missouri knows its place and doesn't leave it, can't. It's bountiful lakes make its waters containable and capable of management so it bears little resemblance to the thoroughfare Lewis and Clark had to think about in order to navigate two centuries ago.
If you want to see anything of the original character of things, the best place to look is upstream from Gavins Point at Yankton. Find a place like the space where I took the picture above, climb one of the river's magnificent bluffs and have a look. The Missouri is heavily silted in here, dangerously, in fact, as ecologists will be happy to tell you; but there's nothing quite like it anywhere else in its thousands of miles because it's so clearly "braided," the way it once was, when navigation was often a matter of choosing alternate routes. Once upon a time, the Missouri sprawled, determined its own course, it was unbroken, unmanageable, wild. Today, really, most of the time it's kept under control.
Only true tree-huggers would want the dams removed these days because those six dams have made life possible in regions where otherwise few could live or would want to.
But when you stand up above this limited section of the old Missouri, when you stand there and look down at the magnificent creature, when you observe what this bad boy once was, a river given to frequent and wholesale flooding, you can't help but wonder whether whether the new Missouri River isn't a bad object lesson for explaining what it means to subdue the earth.
But I don't live there. I've little right to an opinion.
Still, look at the Missouri in that picture. It's an amazing place; it's a riot, a mess, even a killer. No more.
But today, there's water. That's the real story.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:57 AM