The Mississippi: America’s most endangered river

Downtown Alton, IL: Flooding often turns it into a lake.

The upper Mississippi River that Amy and I would watch flow southward from the upper deck of our townhouse on a bluff during our time in Alton, IL (1969-81) is now considered the most endangered river in the United State, national advocacy group American Rivers, announced this week in its annual listing.

Notes the Chicago Tribune in a story published by The Telegraph, my newspaper home for those 12 years:

Citing record-breaking flooding in 2019, which left cities, towns, farm fields and marshlands along the river waterlogged for months, the group urged federal, state and regional leaders to work toward solutions that allow the landscape to hold more water and give the river room to flood safely.

American Rivers says development, crop drainage systems, levees, disparate flood plain management, and climate change, in general, have made the Mississippi River less stable and more prone to flooding. The situation not only puts people at risk, the group argues, but harms fish habitats and essential ecosystems along the river.

“People are starting to understand that the flooding control systems you put in place upstream can have a profound effect downstream,” said Chris Williams, senior vice president for conservation at American Rivers.

The Telegraph and the Chicago Tribune

We’re not surprised. We’ve watched development along flood plains, sloppy “channelization,” and poor management of the many floods that struck the area during our 12 years in Alton.

When the Ilinois and Missouri River dumped their flooded waters into the Mississppi above Alton, we saw the farm lands of north St. Charles County, MO, turn into a giant lake.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), floodling on the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers caused at least $6.2 billion in damage across 13 states. The floodwaters overwhelmed towns, farms, bridge, levees and dams and killed four people.

In our 12 years there, the Army Corps of Engineers, the outfit supposedly in charge of keeping the river flowing and safe, declared three “500year” and five “100-year” floods. Was the Big Muddy out of control or did the Engineers need a new raging system? No one would say.

Amy’s father had a fishing and hunting cabin along the Kaskaskia River in Southern Illinois, where the Corps of Engineers channelized it to “prevent flooding.”

Not long afterwards, a flood washed it away.

Farmland outside of West Alton, MO, turned into a massive lake when the flooded Missouri and Missippi rivers combine just above Alton, IL.

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