22 December 2010

Aerial Photographs of Summer Water Conditions on Missouri River

Conditions associated with the above normal flows of water along the Missouri River during the past summer, are vividly shown in a series of aerial photographs. The images have been complied in a report titled "Ecological Sustainability Through Floodplain Connectivity," with Gene Zuerlein, a fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, given as author.

The numerous photographs taken July 9th, 2010, show the extensive areas of water in the Missouri River floodway from the confluence of the Platte River, down to the Rulo vicinity. The report includes labels identifying local landmarks, which is essential in determining the location along the river channel.

"The photos were taken to assess current conditions of the Missouri River and were taken a few days after the river had peaked, "Zuerlein said. "We also wanted to see how some of the mitigations sites we manage looked after a flood. Flooding is one of those important processes mother nature uses to create habitat and redistribute needed nutrients on the floodplain."

Water is spread across the floodplain - to one degree or another - along the entire stretch of the river photographed, which includes portions of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

The amount of water is astounding!

The first image shows the flooding at the LaPlatte Bottoms, just north of the Platte River confluence, indicating the summer extent of the wetlands at this site. It is interesting to note in a subsequent image, that there is only a small area of water apparent at the Oreapolis site, which is meant to mitigate for filling at the LaPlatte Site. This indicates that the tract is not as hydrologically connected, via surface water flow, to the Platte River, thus lessening the potential for a greater occurrence of wetlands and water storage during high water events.

Many of the areas with the most water present are state wildlife areas such as Schilling WMA, and the water at the new section of this tract on its south side, is well illustrated.

Many of the mitigation sites are also shown as holding water, including notably, Hamburg Bend, Langdon Bend, Aspinwall Bend, Indian Cave / Hemmies Bend and numerous other places.

Missouri River floodway, east of Rulo, Nebraska. Missouri is on the right side of the image.

The images were taken by Eric Fowler, associated with the NGPC's Nebraskaland magazine.

Water flows in the Missouri River are expected to soon return to "normal" levels, according to a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Historic Perspectives

"Gerald Mestl and I have applied the Erodible River Concept on the 244 miles bordering Nebraska," Zuerlein said. "Basically we assessed the corridor of the Missouri River during three different timeframes and calculated how much space the river needs to be healthy like it used to be. When the MR was channelized, 522,000 acres of habitat were taken from it without fully understanding the ecological impact it would have.

"Historically, the river meandered across the floodplain, creating and taking away riverine habitat.

"The river was over engineered and put in a straight jacket and the flow regime changed to accomodate navigation. Congress passed legislation recently mandating that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (collaborating with partners and cooperators) put together an ecosystem recovery program which is currently underway.

"The Flood of 1993 also looked much like the flood of 2010. Taxpayers spent $13-16 billion bailing people out in 1993." A Presidental Report commonly called the Galloway Report" has "the particulars. With the river in its present state, its capacity to store floodwaters has been dramatically affected, consequently the stage of the river goes up when high flows are experienced.

"We need a healthier river for the future and hopefully one which will contribute a lot of ecosystem goods and services to mankind," Zuerlein said.