Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: History Repeats Itself below America's Great Confluence

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: History Repeats Itself below America's Great Confluence

Article excerpt

At the confluence, visions of history dance in your head.

Standing near the point where the nation's two great rivers meet and become one, the Missouri and Mississippi aren't just swollen bodies of water crashing into each other, they are ecological marvels marking the passage of time.

I was there Monday afternoon, having paddled with a group of St. Louisans guided by Mike Clark of Big Muddy Adventures. We started in the flooded Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area. Getting to the river wasn't easy. For the second time in three years, flooding has damaged the road to the boat ramp, leaving much of it under water. But not much stops Muddy Mike, as he is called.

We paddled through wetlands, around breached levees, past a mostly underwater kiosk explaining to hikers what a "riparian corridor" is, and eventually into the wide expanse of the Missouri River, its banks bursting with the high water that is just now receding after last week's flooding.

At confluence point, we spoke of Lewis and Clark, of Mark Twain, of Chouteau, of the Native Americans who paddled here hundreds of years before the city below the confluence would take on the name of a French king.

And we spoke of Bill Lambrecht.

In 2011, as another massive flood, this one devastating to most of the Upper Midwest, roared down the Missouri River toward St. Louis, overtopping its constricted banks from Montana to the farmlands of northern Missouri, I called Lambrecht, then a Post-Dispatch reporter in the nation's capital, to ask a simple question.

Why is the management of the Missouri River so convoluted?

Unbeknownst to me at the time was that Lambrecht had written a book perhaps the book on the topic. "Big Muddy Blues," published in 2005, tells the history of how after decades of devastating floods in the growing Midwest in the 1800s and early 1900s, the nation's politicians set out to tame the Missouri River and instead created a series of dams and navigation channels that have in some cases made flooding worse, and that have definitely turned a national treasure into an ecological disaster.

In the 1940s, some politicians and the Post-Dispatch editorial page urged a more comprehensive approach, a Missouri Valley Authority that would manage the river's great resources, and its potential for commercialization, with the entire river basin in mind.

That idea failed, and instead, every drought and every flood pits state against state, federal agency against federal agency, farmers against environmentalists.

In 2011, I tried to revive the concept of a multistate basin compact, spurred by Lambrecht's book. I wrote an editorial series titled One River, One Problem, which advocated for a regional approach to river management, recognizing that the 1944 Pick-Sloan Plan was destined to fail from the beginning, and that in St. …

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