Groups team up to assess Missouri River

The floods along the Missouri River and elsewhere this past summer caused untold damages in multiple states.

Now, several groups are working together to find out just how the river was affected, both above and below the water.

Steve Mietz, superintendent of the Missouri National Recreational River – a unit of the Wild and Scenic River System managed by the National Park Service – discussed this post-flood assessment during a presentation in the W.H. Over Museum Tuesday night.

"We teamed up with the Missouri River Institute here at the (University of South Dakota), and also with the Corps of Engineers," Mietz said. "We've gone up and down the entire river – we actually just completed that study last week. We looked at all shoreline, took photographs of every mile of shoreline and every place that needed clean-up. …

"We documented every type of geomorphic change in the river that we could see," he said.

The results of the assessment have only just be completed, and have not yet been made public, but eventually will be placed on the Missouri National Recreational River's Web site.

Two of the major focuses of the assessment are clean-up and bank stabilization.

Volunteers now are being sought to help with some of the clean-up, but some of the materials now in the water are hazardous, requiring the assistance of the Environment Protection Agency.

"There's all types of material – there are propane tanks, all types of hazardous material up and down the river that we're going to have to deal with," Mietz said.

Two of the larger items featured in the presentation were a refrigerator, and a full-size Airstream trailer submerged in the mud.

In some cases, clean-up and stabilization go hand-in-hand. Many people along the shoreline erected their own barriers against the floodwater using items such as rock and broken chunks of concrete.

These, however, were unpermitted.

"Folks that want to stabilize their banks anywhere are required under the Clean Water Act and the River and Harbors Act to seek a permit through the Corps of Engineers to alter that waterway," Mietz said. "Within the Wild and Scenic River, the Corps of Engineers is then required to seek our consultation on whether it is appropriate, and if it is appropriate, what kind of stipulations the people must do to maintain the wild and scenic areas of the river. …

"Where we do see bank stabilization that is not permitted, or has not been permitted yet, we will be talking to the Corps and telling them to contact the landowner in seeking a permit, and then we'll go through that regulatory process," he said.

When a permit is given, it usually is done so because the barrier will be created using "natural" materials.

Mietz said piling chunks of concrete on the shore "is not good stabilization," and can result in those concrete pieces being swept in the water should they become submerged.

"All it's doing then is polluting the river," he said.

Historic and archeological sites in several states also are being affected, with some having to partially shut down due to flooding.

"Some of the archeological sites are being threatened right now, so the superintendent (in those areas) is issuing an environmental impact statement to look at how they can best save those archeological sites," Mietz said.

This can be done in several ways, including riverbank stabilization or removing site materials and placing them in a museum.

The second solution is not as likely, though.

"The park service generally prefers to leave archeological materials in place, and not remove them," Mietz said.

Despite all the destruction, there have been some positives, he said.

For one, visitation was up, even though parts of the river were closed.

A number of sandbars and chutes also were created by the increased transport of sediment, which will be beneficial to several endangered species of birds and fish, Mietz said.

"You get all these wonderful geomorphic features," he said. "I would expect … that there will be a boom in the fisheries this next year. The productivity will blossom not only because of all the materials that have been churned up and put into the river, but because all this great shallow-water habitat has increased."

Tuesday's presentation was sponsored by the Living Group of the South Dakota Sierra Club.

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