Then and Now: History Edition
Press & Dakotan

Then and Now: History Edition


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    PAGE 10C: THEN & NOW PRESS & DAKOTAN n MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 River jurisdiction over Goat Island, located between Yankton and Vermillion. The Federal Bureau of Land Management oversees the 800-acre island, which measures about 3.5 miles long by a quarter-mile wide. The NPS is working with management of the island. Until recently, Goat Island was sitting as a no-man s land. We hope we can work together to make a positive influence to benefit both recreation and the ecosystem, Yager said. We re developing a management plan with the states of South Dakota and Nebraska. We re working together so we can move forward. We re determining what the future holds for Goat Island. From Page 1C contributed to sedimentation and other changes. Those physical changes, along with political battles between upstream and downstream states, will determine the Missouri River s long-term future and usage. Those changes will affect far more than the residents along the Missouri River, as the waterway serves as a national resource, Cowman predicted. START OF HISTORY From its beginning, the Missouri River controlled those who sought to explore it or live in its midst. Native Americans were the original inhabitants, followed by explorers, white settlers and soldiers, Cowman said. The 19th century saw the influx of European settlement of the river basin, with the major influx continuing into the mid-1800s. Settlers wanted to homestead along the fertile flood plain, he said. The price you paid for it was that you had the unpredictability of the river because of the floods and erosion. You never knew the future of farming. Because no roads existed, the Missouri River served as a critical part of the early U.S. transportation system. Steamboats traveled upstream, bringing supplies and commerce. The steamboats came to Yankton. It was how the explorers went west, he said. We also had forts along the river, from Omaha to Montana, to protect the settlements. The steamboats affected more than travel, Cowman said. The steamboats needed wood for fuel, so they cut down the cottonwood forests, he said. The river could prove treacherous, and the remains of one steamboat can still be seen, Cowman said. The North Alabama sank in 1870. The bow is waged against a snag, which has kept the steamboat in place where it hit and sank, he said. Yankton saw a great deal of steamboat traffic, but plans were in the works for other types of river travel, Yager said. In 1900, there was an effort to get barge traffic channelized up to Yankton, but it failed because of a combination of politics and economics, she said. Today, the downstream channel is geared toward barge traffic and navigation. From Sioux City to St. Louis, below the final dam at Gavins Point near Yankton, the natural meander takes over and the river becomes faster and deeper. Because of its unique status, the Missouri National Recreational River plays an important role for the United States, said Dan Peterson, MNRR chief of interpretation and educational outreach. Peterson noted the landscape which combines river beds and oxbows. Lake Yankton was an old channel of the river, he said. The park as a whole captures the natural and cultural history, he said. You have the Native Americans who were here first, along with explorers Lewis and Clark, the fur trappers and the homesteaders, who were all headed west. THE DAMS ARRIVE The Pick-Sloan Plan represented one of the nation s greatest infrastructure feats in terms of size and scope, Cowman said. With the dams, you had flood control. You no longer had the annual threat of flooding, he said. But the ecology of the river was impacted. You didn t have the variability of the flows. And it altered the creation of sandbars. In addition, the water and soil itself underwent changes, he said. The valleys were fertile, and you had the redistribution of nutrients, he said. The Missouri River flood plain is one of the most fertile areas in the U.S., and the water table came up and stayed up. Pick-Sloan was geared for flood control, but it also gave hydropower and water supplies for cities and rural water systems. In addition, the newly-formed lakes created new opportunities for the regional economy, Cowman said. You have a huge means of recreation and tourism dollars, especially with places like Lewis and Clark Lake, he said. You see all sorts of people come from Nebraska and Iowa (for camping and boating), and they have homes and cabins along places like Lazy River Acres (west of Niobrara, Nebraska). But not all parties have benefited from the dams, Cowman noted. You also have the Native Americans, who were displaced by the reservoirs and the settlements, he said. In some cases, Native Americans saw the flooding of burial grounds and other sacred sites. In addition, the town of Niobrara has moved twice because of the river, Cowman said. The 1881 flood severely damaged the town, and it was moved to the terrace that was slightly higher. It remained there until the mid-1970s, he said. Then you had the sediment, which dropped off quickly in the Niobrara-Springfield area. The water table rose in the 1970s, and people had groundwater in their basements. They moved the town to a new location in the mid-1970s. Also, neighboring Niobrara State Park was relocated in the late 1980s, he said. The river has created ongoing issues for the Niobrara area. The town of about 400 residents was surrounded by water on three sides during the 2011 Missouri River flood, with Nebraska Highway 12 closed to the east. The Nebraska Department of Roads has considered rerouting Highway 12 in the Niobrara area. In recent years, three new bridges PHOTO: DAKOTA TERRITORIAL MUSEUM When the Gavins Point Dam (above) was opened in 1957, it tamed the Missouri River in ways never before dreamed by those who lived along its banks. It reduced the flood threat greatly and created myriad recreational opportunities, such as Lewis & Clark Lake. BELOW: However, nature and the river sometimes can t be contained, as was discovered during the historic 2011 Missouri River flood. KELLY HERTZ/P&D were constructed over the Missouri River, connecting South Dakota and Nebraska. They are the Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge at Running Water-Niobrara (a ferry formerly crossed the site); the Discovery Bridge at Yankton, with the old Meridian Bridge converted into a pedestrian structure; and the bridge linking Vermillion and Newcastle, Nebraska. POLITICAL ISSUES The river, by its very nature, has created political and jurisdictional issues, Cowman said. People wonder why the Dakota territorial capital was located in Yankton, in the far southeast corner of this large territory, he said. But if you look at the map, that s where the population was located. The steamboats and settlers all came to Yankton. In the same way, the University of South Dakota was located in Vermillion because of its location, Cowman said. Many people don t realize that Vermillion was actually located on the Missouri River at one time, he added. Vermillion was affected by the 1868 flood. It was on the river, but then a portion of the river was cut off, leaving Vermillion several miles from the river, he said. You can tell by the references in the Lewis and Clark journals, talking about Spirit Mound being near the river. No longer a river town, Vermillion considered its future, Cowman said. Vermillion decided it needed to redevelop itself, which is why it pursued its designation with the University of South Dakota, he said. The town needed an identity. However, the shifting river left a unique political reality, Cowman said. The state boundaries didn t change even though the river shifted. The boundaries change if the river meanders, but not when there is a major event such as flooding, he said. That s why you have the state of Nebraska located on the north side of the Missouri River. The Nebraska presence created an unexpected situation with the growth of USD, Cowman said. A three-mile zone was established around Vermillion so USD students were protected from vices such as bootlegging, gambling and brothels. In the early days, enforcement of such regulations didn t extend to the Nebraska soil north of the Missouri River, he said. Such jurisdictional distinctions continue to this day, although South Dakota and Nebraska authorities work closely together. You have Nebraska law enforcement patrolling near Yankton, because it s their territory, Cowman explained. RECENT FLOODING While the network of dams provides flood control, Cowman noted some major floods still struck the basin in recent years. The 1993 Missouri River flooding hit Iowa and Missouri the hardest. In that case, the dams couldn t help because the precipitation fell below Gavins Point Dam. In 1997, the Corps of Engineers needed to release more water because of activity on the Northern Plains, Cowman said. The river banks were full, and the Corps was releasing 70,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) from Gavins Point Dam, he noted. The 70,000 cfs would pale in comparison with the 2011 flood, when 160,000 cfs was released for weeks from Gavins Point Dam. The historic flooding arose from a series of events, Cowman said. In 2011, the reservoirs were very full, he said. You already had a wet fall 2010 in the Northern Plains. Then in 2011, you added the Northern Plains snowpack, the Rocky Mountain snowpack and the Northern Plains precipitation. Then came a major precipitation event in spring 2011, at a time when no room existed in the reservoir system, Cowman said. We had tremendous rain in eastern Montana and the Dakotas, which filled things up in the spring, he said. There was no room for the Rocky Mountain snowpack which would melt in the spring, so the Corps started dumping huge amounts of water. You saw flooding downstream, especially after it left the six dams. The Corps of Engineers watched the impact of the months-long stress on the dams, Cowman said. The dams were put to the test. The water was within one foot of the top, and literally it was plumb full, he said. All sorts of debris was floating in the river. We cleaned up the Clay County section two years after the flood, and we found decks, porches and sandbars. SEDIMENT SOLUTIONS Sedimentation has emerged as a major problem in recent years for the Missouri River and looks to worsen, Yager said. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of the Missouri River sediment comes from the Niobrara River, she said. But there s no way to drain the Sandhills (where the sediment originates). The 2011 flood pushed the sediment in the Niobrara-Running Water area further downstream, Yager said A number of proposals have looked at how to remove the sediment, she added. We ve had talk about dredging the Missouri River, but that would be a tremendous undertaking, she said. The best solution may be stopping the sediment before it enters the Missouri River. The Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) has looked at options, including a sediment collector, Yager said. An Ohio company has manufactured a large device that would be placed in the Niobrara River to collect sediment and keep it from going downstream into the Missouri River, Yager said. The collectors are metal troughs using hydraulic pressure, Cowman said. The sediment drops out of the river flow and becomes collected in the troughs. They re talking about putting it on the river bank and eventually transporting it. The problem is, what do you do with all of it? he asked. It might be better to deposit the sediment below Gavins Point Dam and let it free flow down the river. Depositing sediment below Gavins Point Dam would help solve downstream bank erosion, Cowman said. The river is sediment hungry, which is why it erodes the banks and scours the bottom, he said. If we put the sediment downstream, it would satisfy the river s need. While South Dakota and Nebraska deal with sedimentation, other states would welcome the product, Yager said. The downstream places, like Louisiana, would like our sediment for their delta, she said. The 2011 Missouri River flood sped things along by pushing the sediment downstream, Cowman said. In addition, the river scoured its bed in places to a depth of 30 feet, compared to the former 10 feet, he said. MNRR S MISSION As its mission, the MNRR works with bank stabilization and other issues to preserve the wild and scenic river, Yager said. However, the MNRR finds itself in a unique situation as a national park with very little land, she said. Most of the land is held by private landowners. That affects the amount of bank stabilization and other work we can do on our own, she said. We have 69,000 acres (in the MNRR), and the National Park Service owns 300 acres not counting Goat Island. It s unique to have a national park that doesn t have its own land and boundaries, but we re very cooperative working with private landowners. The MNRR includes the least tern and the piping plover, two birds considered endangered species, Yager said. The Corps of Engineers protects the two species as part of its mission, she said. Before the 2011 flood, not enough sandbar habitat was generated. The flood naturally provided the sandbars. But the sandbars created by the flood have eroded away, she said. We re getting back to the point where the Corps will need to build sandbars mechanically. After decades of legal dispute, an agreement was reached in which South Dakota and Nebraska allowed federal ZEBRA MUSSELS Recently, the Missouri River has seen the arrival of more invasive species, Yager said. Those species include the zebra mussel, a mollusk that rapidly multiplies and creates problems for water intakes and other infrastructure. The zebra mussel is usually transported by boats and other surfaces taken from one body of water to another. State and federal agencies are cracking down on violators of laws intended to stop or limit the spread of invasive species. Those agencies, along with private organizations, are also working with education efforts and outreach activities such as clean boat events. Most recently, education efforts have informed people about zebra mussels on beaches that have cut people s feet. The NPS, including the MNRR, is working with such outreach efforts, Peterson said. We make sure the zebra mussels and other invasive species aren t being spread to other bodies of water. They re even washing the buoys to prevent the spread, he said. We re informing the public that they need to drain their boats and plugs so they don t carry organisms. Conservation officials are also working on research and management practices for the zebra mussels, Yager said. Zebra mussels tend to peak twice a month, she said. We can take water samples which determine the number of veligers (final larval stage). PROMOTING THE MNRR The MNRR will note a double anniversary in 2018, Yager said. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act will mark its 50th anniversary, while the MNRR will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The MNRR has stepped up its invitation for the public to explore and enjoy the national park, Peterson said. Those events include guided paddle trips, kayak clinics and evening programs. We want people to get out to the river, whether it s working on a cleanup, taking a walk, bird watching or boating, he said. We re finding that more people want to be on or near the water. The Missouri River water trail has attracted a great deal of attention, Cowman said. The trail runs from Pickstown to Sioux City, including Lewis and Clark Lake. The trail offers signs at each access point, providing information about the river s features and history. The trail offers interpretive paddlers, who will lead a three-hour tour. On those tours, you get a very close view of the river. You see features, like the cottonwoods, that you wouldn t see if you were driving by or in a large boat, he said. You see and hear wildlife. You hear the crickets and toads, the gar and the carp. You can take a kayak challenge, or you can hike, bike and just enjoy the solitude. You feel like part of the river. FUTURE PLANS The river has received a boost with the formation of the Friends of the MNRR, Peterson said. Recent work in the Vermillion area includes the Frost Trail and around Mulberry Bend and Clay County Park. Peterson spoke of the desire for more access signage on both the South Dakota and Nebraska sides of the river. The NPS is also working with orientation films for visitors and a 15-minute video. In addition, the Missouri River Institute (MRI) is working on research concerning the river. The MRI received congressional earmarks funding set aside for a specific purpose in 2003 and 2006, Cowman said. Then-U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), a Vermillion native, was instrumental in getting funds which allowed the MRI to grow, he added. The MRI is also seeking to capture the river s history, Cowman said. In 2010, we conducted an oral history project. We screened 20 different people who lived along the Missouri River, he said. They had to be old enough to have reached adulthood before the dams were built. The USD media and journalism staff coordinated the opening and the taping of the interviews. The people talked about what life was like along the Missouri River. USD students are also exposed to the Missouri River through research and visits to Clay County Park and Ponca State Park along with tours of the Gavins Point power plant at Yankton. The research is a constant work in progress, Yager said. When it s all done, the river will still continue changing year by year, she said. In addition, any uses of the Missouri River must be carefully undertaken, Cowman said. The public needs to understand the challenges facing the river, he said. How much change can we implement while still maintaining the river s wild and scenic state? The challenge is finding that balance, he said. But we re headed in the right direction. We re improving the opportunities along the river for all of the public. 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