Letters To The Editor

Letter To The Editor: Hydrology And Biology

In my younger years, I was a regular contributor to The Waterways Journal and shared my opinions relative to waterways, and just about everything that has had to do with waterways. Because of a thirst for knowledge, I have ventured into the realms of environmental issues and large-river ecology, which, along with my life experience of living and working on rivers, has held me in good stead. Because of being recognized for that knowledge, I was invited to Washington, D.C., to brief the assistant secretary of the interior, the director of civil works for the Corps of Engineers, head of the Maritime Administration, several generals and an admiral or two.

It has become apparent to me during this time that people who are very knowledgeable, and may even have a Ph.D. on a subject, are no smarter than the next guy when they venture outside of their field. Tony Messenger (columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) could benefit from this knowledge. He could start by not using people from Bill Lambrecht (a Post reporter)’s contact list: Robert Criss, a well respected geologist, Robert Kelley Schneider, an interesting writer, and Brad Walker, a civil engineer. From their written opinions, it is obvious they see themselves as environmental experts. Is that because they are almost always in agreement regarding problems and their solutions are the same?

Those solutions include stopping navigation, stopping farming in the floodplain, and doing away with all the Missouri River dams. They would have us believe the result would be a great “park” encompassing the Missouri River floodplain. It is obvious they can’t be looking at this problem from an ecological, biological, or human benefits standpoint. What would happen if the course they plot was actually followed, and the floodplain became the “Criss-Schneider-Walker Park”?

Let’s take a historical walk down their reality path, and look at the results, starting with ecology. This path will begin in 1803 when Lewis and Clark started up the Missouri River. There were no dams, the river wandered, and with the exception of small clusters of Native Americans, people were sparse. The journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition show mosquito spelled 19 different ways. Francis Hunter wrote: “The wandering Missouri River created many swamps and backwaters which bred billions of mosquitoes. The insects attacked the Corps of Discovery so ferociously that it was impossible for them to shoot their rifles accurately. They were frequently driven to move campsites to try to escape the mosquitos, with their only defense being smoky fires, mosquito netting, and a smelly repellant they made from tallow and hogs’ lard. There were many nights that they couldn’t even eat without taking in mouthfuls of bugs.” Several came down with malaria.

Dams, farmers and a narrowing of the Missouri river, accomplished by levees and bank stabilization, stopped the wandering. Without this effort, the wandering and mosquitos would still exist. Therefore, it is illogical to conclude anyone would visit the “Criss-Schneider-Walker Park.” In the past, we have always connected mosquitos with malaria, but malaria, in the U.S., is under control. The Zika virus in the U.S. is not always present, but when present, is not under control. Thanks to the dams, levees, bank stabilization, and farmers draining the swamps, for the most part mosquitos are under control. Current climate conditions in the whole state of Missouri can support recruitment and growth of the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus; all they need is a place to breed. Would the Criss-Schneider-Walkers of this country rather have millions of gallons of pesticides spread all over the Missouri Basin, like has been done in Puerto Rico? What if the Zika virus morphed into a strain that couldn’t be cured, who would the Criss-Schneider-Walkers of this world blame then?

 The hydrology question also relates to biology questions. With an un-dammed river and no farm levees, there would be wandering (floodpain connectivity) almost every year. What species would benefit most from a wandering Missouri River? The non-native Asian carp, and mosquitos would certainly be contenders for the top spot. As ecologically bad as dams are, for native species, invasive species can be worse. Was it the Corps, navigators, or farmers who allowed the Asian carp into the U.S.? Some scientists are postulating the Asian carp is now the biggest threat to endangered species. Take the time and read what scientists believe would be the result of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes or Missouri River reservoirs.

 There is plenty of evidence that the dams not only prevent, or reduce, flooding in the Missouri Basin, but also the Middle and Lower Mississippi basin. I won’t even mention economics; this is a discussion about the environment. There are two choices, the current situation, or change the Missouri River back to 1803. Visit the “park” Criss, Schneider and Walker’s reality would like to put you in? If you choose the “park,” my advice is, buy plenty of mosquito repellent, don’t take the kids, and say a prayer that you don’t get bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus, West Nile virus, yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, etc. If you don’t choose their park; continue to enjoy your clean drinking water, power plants away from cities, fresh air, relaxed way of life, and windows you can open without mosquitos keeping you awake. 

Capt. Bill Beacom

Sioux City, Iowa