Is high Water the New Normal?

Is high Water the New Normal?

By tomorrow we should be coming down out of minor flood stage with the river continuing to fall through the action stage, into just ‘high water’ by early next week. Fishing will be great once those gates go back in the water up at the Genoa dam!

Over the past several years it seems like the Miss is running higher than it used to, with ‘action’ stage coming 4 days after the Twin Cities gets much more than a sprinkle  Common sense says we haven’t got THAT much rain this spring. Snowmelt hasn’t been part of the grand equation for almost 2 months now.  So WHY is the River staying so high for so long?

Come to find out the Corps of Engineers has raised the normal pool levels north of St. Louis by about a foot, all the way upstream to accommodate barge traffic downstream. So now the ‘normal summer pool’ at Lansing will be 9′ instead of 8′.  This move was made quietly without assessing impact on businesses and folks who live and work on the River and have become used to an 8′ pool OVER DECADES.

Back in the early 1800s, the Miss was essentially the Interstate. Congress mandated the Corps shall maintain a channel for navigation.  This has always been priority #1. Back in the 1950s barge traffic diminished.  Then engineers designed a new kind of propulsion system for the towboats. Now they can push bigger loads than ever before. Barges are displacement vessels. The more you load them, the more water they require. Three years ago, major towboat companies like Ingram and Marquette complained they needed more depth. The quickest, easiest way to achieve this is by holding water back behind the dams. So from now on the Miss will always run that much closer to very high water, and will reach flood stage more quickly.

When Congress came out with their mandate over 150 years ago, there was no such thing as sport fishing or tourism. In 2017 these industries generate financials far beyond what the handful of barge companies make. But the old paradigm still exists.  When high water closes boat ramps, fishing and river use for pursuits other than running barges becomes difficult. This costs many millions of dollars in lost revenue, by thousands of guides, bait shops, restaurants, motels, gas stations, grocery stores…..

Most taxpayers who use the Mississippi River for purposes other than hauling corn and coal aren’t even aware they don’t have a voice in this situation. The Corps of Engineers does its best to blindly follow the congressional mandate. We voters/taxpayers have a voice if we choose to use it.

Of course, the barge companies have deep pockets and are very well connected with politicians, a few of which were probably around 150 years ago when the navigation priority was established. Term limits are the ONLY way we can get the USA back on track. Congress works on keeping themselves in power, not for us. But a normal pool level which is one foot lower and term limits are two things we’re not likely to see in the foreseeable future.



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