4th of July ASSOCIATIONS: Independence–Missouri–Mississippi River–Mark Twain

USA:  Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard, Oak Bluffs, Methodist Campground Victorian architecture, upstairs balcony with flag
USA: Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard

Anticipating the Fourth of July U.S. holiday, we think of “independence,” which makes me think of Independence, Missouri. Now a suburb of Kansas City, this city was originally the point of departure of our California, Oregon and Santa Fe Trails.

At the crossroads of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Independence was the hometown of our President Harry S. Truman; and like Truman, Missouri is pretty much the center of the continental US and. So it truly is an American heartland and gatherer of rivers.

Illinois: Cairo, Fort Defiance, junction of Ohio (L) and Mississippi Rivers
Illinois: Cairo, Fort Defiance, junction of Ohio (L) and Mississippi Rivers

This Great Rivers State has been home to the pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture, now known only by their UNESCO World Heritage Site mounds (c 700-1400 A.D.) that kept them the flood plains of the Mississippi River that fertilized the crops at Cahokia. As a St. Louis road sign explains “ It’s called a floodplain because it’s plain that it floods.”

USA: Illinois, Mississippi River Basin, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in wetlands
USA: Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in wetlands

The first permanent “European” settlement was by Creole fur traders who settled right on the banks of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis in Ste. Genevieve in the mid-1730’s. After the fur trade, its residents turned keeping livestock in its communal “Grand Champ” (Big Field) to growing wheat, corn and tobacco.

MO: Ste Genevieve Co., Route 32, farm machinery in field.
MO: Ste Genevieve Co., Route 32, farm machinery in field.

This charming town was first moved back from its original waterfront location following the Great Flood of 1785. Even so, Ste. Genevieve still faces flood threats that explain its high concrete levees and gates pic built after the Great Flood of 1993 that turned this region into an interior ocean.

Missouri: Ste Genevieve, flooded streets, during Mississippi River flood of 1993.
Missouri: Ste Genevieve, Mississippi River flood of 1993.

Once my mind focuses on Missouri River’s history, it quickly jumps to Mark Twain, who wrote endlessly about the flow and the cultures along the Mississippi River. Thus, in honor of July 4 and Missouri and Mark Twain, here are some favorite quotes – both fun and serious – from that region’s great bard.

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book… which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Life on the Mississippi, 1874

It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing.
 Life on the Mississippi, 1874

USA: Missouri, Upper Mississippi River Basin, Hannibal,

The man they called Ed said the muddy Mississippi water was wholesomer to drink than the clear water of the Ohio; he said if you let a pint of this yaller Mississippi water settle, you would have about a half to three- quarters of an inch of mud in the bottom, according to the stage of the river, and then it warn’t no better than Ohio water – what you wanted to do was to keep it stirred up – and when the river was low, keep mud on hand to put in and thicken the water up the way it ought to be. Life on the Mississippi, 1874

“The military engineers of the Commission have taken upon their shoulders the job of making the Mississippi over again – a job transcended in size by only the original job of creating it.”   Life on the Mississippi, 1874

 “One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver – not aloud but to himself – that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, “go here,” or ‘Go there,” and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at. But a discreet man will not put these things into spoken words; for the West Point engineers have not their superiors anywhere; they know all that can be known of their abstruse science; and so, since they conceive that they can fetter and handcuff that river and boss him, it is but wisdom for the unscientific man to keep still, lie low, and wait till they do it.” Life on the Mississippi, 1874

The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…. Eruption

USA-Minnesota, Upper Mississippi River Basin, Itasca State Park (Headwaters of the Mississippi River), tree near rocks where water from Lake Itasca forms beginning of Mississippi River, 1475' elevation, beginning of 2552-mi trip to Gulf

In response to the previous quote, the following is the grand finale of this fireworks of Mark Twain quotes. If all of us – in the U. S. and everywhere on this planet – were to be inspired by his call to explore, dream and discover, I think we could reduce climate change, pollution, and other threats to our fresh water resources.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Enjoy the Fireworks! Alison Jones, Director NWNL

Will the movie “DamNation” lead to the removal of the lower four Snake River Dams?

USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam
USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

Since the release of the movie “DamNation” over a year ago, over 72 dams have been removed and over 730 miles of rivers were restored across the United States according to the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers. In January of this year, the producers of the movie met with members of Congress and White House officials regarding the removal of the lower four Snake River dams. Lower Granite is one.

NWNL documented the Snake River on an expedition last May interviewing stakeholders of the river including local farmers, an irrigation association, members of the Nez Perce Tribe, the manager of the Port of Lewiston, Idaho Power spokespersons and conservation organizations. Each group presented what the importance of the Snake River is to them. The only stakeholders we could not interview are the 13 species of salmon, the lamprey, the whales and other ocean-going creatures as well as the riparian vegetation that depend on an abundance of salmon to thrive. They are also voices of the river. Will some or all of the lower four dams be removed?  Check out the facts and myths page on the website of Save Our Wild Salmon. Further information about DamNation and its influence on dam removal is also available.

Blog post and photo by Barbara Briggs Folger.

Serpentine Curves and Manufactured Angles of the Mississippi

Aerial photos of the Atchafalaya Basin.

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area,

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, Wax Lake Outlet area

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USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, Wax Lake Outlet area

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area,

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Massive cleanup of coal ash spill continues

Exactly one year ago today, NWNL documented the clean up of the Nation’s largest coal fly ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant, TN.  In 2008, over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry leaked into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, part of the Mississippi River basin. The recovery will continue into 2015.

Did you know you can take a tour of the site?

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

America’s energy leftovers makes its mark

USA:  Louisiana, New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, flight over coastal wetlands south of New Orleans, aerial view of barge carrying uncovered coal, spilling into the Mississippi River
USA: Louisiana, New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, flight over coastal wetlands south of New Orleans, aerial view of barge carrying uncovered coal, spilling into the Mississippi River

The world’s largest deposits of
“recoverable” coal are in the U.S.

Will we always be exporting coal?

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

USA: Missouri, Near Van Buren, water plants growing below surface of Big Stream (Ozarks).
Missouri: water plants growing below surface of Big Stream (Ozarks).

By means of water, we give life to everything. 

-Koran 21:30

Finding Wetlands in a Drought

Lesser yellowlegs, San Luis NWR
Lesser yellowlegs, San Luis NWR

By Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life ®
and Professional Photographer
As published by American Rivers in “The River Blog”-April 11, 2014

The phone rang.  That snowy Saturday I was editing photos of Ethiopia’s Omo River.  “Alison, you must cover California’s drought for No Water No Life®.  It’s beyond regional. US and Asian markets depend on that produce.” I envisioned photographs of a three-year drought:  monotones of white salt on sand.

San Joaquin River, Modesto
San Joaquin River, Modesto

Within 24 hours however, I connected California’s plight with our project’s case-study watersheds. Management solutions for California could help other watersheds. So, escaping an
unusually wet East Coast winter, I packed cameras and
sunglasses to document an arid valley 3,000 miles away. I didn’t expect to enjoy it.

On the plane, I read The Mountains of California written by John Muir 120 years ago.  “Every glacier in the world is smaller than it once was.  All the world is growing warmer….”1

What would he say today?  Surface area of Sierra Nevada glaciers
is 55% less,2 and development still increases along rivers below. Rivers? Oh, actually, the Central Valley now has fewer rivers and more canals.

Then unexpectedly, with expedition advice from American Rivers, my story grew beyond the desolation of drought to include hope.  Droughts come and go in California.  They may get worse.
But there are mitigating solutions. Restoration of streams,
riparian zones and wetlands matter as much as reduced
water consumption.

American Pelicans, Mendota Pool
American Pelicans, Mendota Pool

As American pelicans paddled through Mendota Pool, I read that wetlands hold 10 to 1,000 times the living matter in nearby dry land.  At dusk, a great-horned owl hunted above as I framed reflections in San Luis NWR.  What a relief from miles of empty concrete canals!  I thanked the sedge grasses rubbing my ankles for absorbing pollutants from nearby crop fields, hog farms and dairy-cattle pens.

Red-winged blackbird, San Luis NWR
Red-winged blackbird, San Luis NWR

An insect hatch sounded like rain on my windshield. I wished for higher levees to better view Pacific Flyway waterfowl in the bottomlands. Someday I hope to see Aleutian crackling geese and the tule elk now protected in San Joaquin NWR.

In 2006 Jared Diamond, Paul Ehrlich, Sandra Postel, Peter Raven, Edward O. Wilson et al. told the Supreme Court:  “More than a source of water and fish, the nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands store flood waters and reduce economic devastation due to flooding. They recharge groundwater, filter pollutants, and purify drinking water. And they provide the habitats that sustain a diversity of species, which themselves perform important ecological functions.”3

American egret, San Luis NWR
American egret, San Luis NWR

Despite such support, more than 90% of California’s historic riparian and wetlands habitats are gone (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). Today, the San Joaquin’s riparian habitat is scant.  But these traces of willows, shrubs and grasses support the highest diversity of wildlife in the Central Valley.   Wood ducks, river otters, warblers, eagles, spawning salmon and formerly California bear follow these wooded highways for safety, food and spawning.

Lesser scaup, California Aqueduct, Los Banos
Lesser scaup, California Aqueduct, Los Banos

The drought brought me here.  I saw trickles lead to less water, not more.  Nature seems turned inside out.  Yet American Rivers, other stewards, scientists, stakeholders and policymakers are working together to address needs of natural and human communities.  Just as John Muir wrote in 1885 about accumulating snowflakes in the Sierra, grassroots efforts can affect policy: “Come, we are feeble; let us help one another.  We are many, and together we will be strong.  Marching in close, deep ranks, let us … set the landscapes free.”4

Coots and Northern shovelers, San Luis NWR
Coots and Northern shovelers, San Luis NWR

——-

1 Muir, John.  The Mountains of California.  New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, Page 15.  (Originally published: New York: Century, 1894.)

2 Basagic, Hassan.  “Twentieth Century Glacier Change in the Sierra Nevada.”

3 Jason Rylander, et al. “Supreme Court Amici Curiae,” Nos 04-1034; 04-1384 regarding John A. Rapanos, et ux., et al., v. USA and June Carabell, et al., v. USACE and US EPA. Jan 12, 2006.

4 Muir, John.  The Mountains of California.  New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, Page 12.  (Originally published: New York: Century, 1894.)