Several of my colleagues in the Northwest have been sending me pictures of the Tetons and the Rocky Mountains all summer. Many times, you can’t see the peaks of these mammoth outcroppings because of the smoke from the rampant wildfires that have plagued the West. This region normally offers pristine views and crisp, clean air, but not in the past several years. Masks are being worn, and not totally in response to COVID-19, to somewhat filter the lingering smoke from penetrating one’s lungs. I can only imagine the stress inflicted upon mountain sheep, elk, weasels, and the other living creatures, both flora and fauna, that inhabit this land. Timber damage is horrific. Soils are exposed and are now vulnerable to extensive erosion when, and if, rainfall ever returns to this region. To cap it off, many homes and lives have also been disrupted and lost from the impact of these fires. Drought, and I mean extreme and prolonged drought, is the culprit. What a tragedy!
Here at home, we struggle to work our land, plant, and harvest our crops, and even cut our lawns due to extreme wet conditions for much of the year. In the recent years, prolonged flooding, due to abnormally high rainfall, has flooded our fields and homes. What our friends out west would do for some of our moisture and what we would do to be able to offer it to them. It is hard to comprehend the vast differences between the two landscapes less than 1,000 miles from here. Hold that thought, for now.
The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-longest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. She originates from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and flows generally south to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. I was taught in grade school the word Mississippi came from Native Americans meaning “Father of Waters.” Other names listed, rendered from Mississippi, include “Great River,” “Elk River,” “Big River,” and “Miserable Wretched Dirty Water River.” I like “Father of Waters.”
Approximately 50,000 years ago, the Central United States was covered by an inland sea, this being an area drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries into the Gulf of Mexico. The soils in this area, including our own Mississippi Delta, were found to be very rich in fertility. This area was first settled by hunting and gathering Native Americans and is considered one of the few centers of plant domestication in human history. There is evidence of early cultivation of sunflower, marsh elder, a species of goosefoot, and squash, dating back to the fourth millennium BC. The history of this river is vast, and volumes of books have been written about this body of water that include, but are not limited to, European exploration, American colonization, the Civil War, the steamboat era, and the importance as a waterway for commerce and trade. I could go on and on, but let’s just go back to the river, in the literal sense.
Ecologically speaking, the Mississippi is home to a diverse aquatic fauna and has been called the “mother fauna,” of North American fresh water. Approximately 375 species of fish inhabit the river, including its basin. Because of its size and species diversity, the river can be divided into three sections: the Upper Mississippi, that being from its headwaters to the confluence with the Missouri river, the Middle Mississippi, which is downriver from the Missouri to the Ohio River, and the Lower Mississippi, which flows from the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico. At its source, Lake Itasca, the average depth is about three feet. The average depth between Saint Paul and Saint Louis is between nine and 12 feet deep with a maximum depth of around 60 feet. Between Saint Louis and Cairo, Ill. the depth averages 30 feet and below Cairo the average depth is between 50 and 100 feet. The deepest part of the river is in New Orleans, where it reaches over 200 feet in depth. So, what’s all the hoopla about the river depth statistics? Let me finish.
Regarding flow, the Mississippi River discharges at an annual average rate of between 200 and 700 thousand cubic feet per second. I’m sure some hydrologist or a mathematical statistician can calculate how many gallons of water per second is discharged into the Gulf, never to be seen again, but this is way beyond my capabilities. Or I should say, I have bigger fish to fry. Let’s just agree this is a lot of water. The entire drainage system (watershed) for this river covers more than 1,250,000 square miles. This includes the drainage from all or parts of 32 states and two Canadian provinces. To put in perspective, the total catchment of the Mississippi River covers nearly 40% of the landmass of the continental United States. Surely, I have made my point. Now back to the drought stricken West.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is 48 inches in diameter and just over 800 miles long. Consisting of 11 pumping stations, over 35,000 gallons of oil can flow through this pipe…per minute. Do you see where I am heading with this? As smart as we “think” we are, why in the world can’t we devise a similar pipeline, only this time to carry the precious resource…water? We are allowing billions of gallons of water to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, carrying with it, sediment to be dumped into the fragile saltwater ecosystem.
Now before I ruffle some feathers, I know there would be a huge bog-down politically, socially, economically, etc. Take a moment though, to think about the cost of what is occurring out West and what “no” water is doing. Think about the vast volume of crops that could be produced to feed not only ourselves right here at home, but the rest of the world. Talk about a humanitarian effort! Picture a series of pipelines from Saint Louis on down that would be beneficial for mankind and the river itself, if of course we do it right. This endeavor, sadly, would probably have to go through Congress where most of them struggle to even tie their own shoes, much less agree on something to benefit humanity. I made it through eight articles without becoming a bit political, so I better stop now. One more thought, if they couldn’t “control” it, they wouldn’t be for it. Oh well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Think about it though, why not? Can you envision the possibility? We did it with oil. We can go to the moon. Hmmm, could I be onto something?
Years ago, a group of cotton consultants from Australia visited me during their off season. They are below the equator, so our June is their December, if you know what I mean. They would come look at our crop in the summer and I would go look at theirs in December. A wonderful country for farming indeed. But back to my point. I took them to Vicksburg to see the Mississippi River. One of my guests, Phil Glover, teared up when he stood atop the bluff overlooking this river. I asked him what he thought? I still remember his reply, he emphatically said, “it was criminal.” I was perplexed and asked him to elaborate. He said to allow that vast resource to flow by and not be utilized for good, could be considered criminal. He was, and is, correct. I have thought about his words many times, and this has been over 20 years ago. And the river keeps flowing.
What do you think about my idea? I’m sure someone has talked about it before, but why hasn’t anything ever been done? Y’all are smarter than I am. Would someone take the ball and run with it? I know it could be done. And in the meantime, smoke continues to engulf the West, crops are parched, timber and wildlife are destroyed, and humans suffer. Please think about this and let me know what you think. And at this very moment, it’s beginning to rain here.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.