June 23, 2010

Water: the cause of and solution to all of life's problems

Two stories about rivers today, folks, one shockingly unhelpful and one possibly really helpful...

The first river story is a tragic one, that of the Albert Pike Campground on the Little Missouri River in Arkansas.  The campground lies - or rather, lay - next to the Little Missouri River along a flat, wooded area built up with a mixture of rustic cabins and tent sites.  In addition to the natural beauty - isolated lowlands beside the river surrounded by steep hills leading away from the river, one of the attractions of the area is the remoteness, the lack of cell phone reception or any input from the outside world - including any warning system or radio tower (that fell two years ago in the windstorms that eventually knocked out Ohio schools for a week.)

The typical river level just downstream from the campground runs near three feet deep with a volume of fifty cubic feet of water per second, flows that can lead to a nice, relaxing downstream paddle or even to children splashing away in the river while parents casually watched nearby.  On the morning of June 11th, however, the drainage from thunderstorms in the area - thunderstorms that brought up to ten inches of rain overnight - rushed down the hillsides and funneled into the Little Missouri (nice video of the storms and the topography here), raising that river level from 3 feet to 23.3 feet, taking the flow of the river from 50 cubic feet per second to somewhere over 20,000 cubic feet per second.  The graphs - posted by the Outside Blog - speak volumes.

Those people never had a chance.

The second river tale is one that might...might have a happier ending.  This is the story of the Atchafalaya, a river and swamp that branches off from the Mississippi River at the Old River Control site of the Army Corps of Engineer's continuing battle to keep water flowing in the Mississippi River channel instead of diverting into the Atchafalaya and finding a new path to the Gulf of Mexico.

At the moment, the Army Corp keeps seventy percent of the upper Mississippi's flow heading into the lower Mississippi and allows thirty percent to head off into the Atachafalaya.  Paul Kemp, an Audubon Society scientist, suggest in National Geogpraphic this week that the ratio be shifted so that more water flows into the lower Mississippi - more like 80-20 - and that a number of upstream dams be opened so that the flow increases even more to push the flow through New Orleans even higher and to help keep the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at bay.
The Mississippi will not be able to keep the oil at bay indefinitely, however. The river's flow naturally declines each summer, and by August, Kemp's idea will no longer be effective.
If only we could stop the oil leak before August...

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