For The Midwest Producer Magazine
The 800-pound gorilla in the room for those of us from the eastern parts of Kansas and Nebraska is the Missouri River. We've developed a love/hate relationship with the Ol' Muddy Mo. This year she's been running bank full almost all summer. That in itself is a major cause of problems for those who farm in any region drained by the big ditch. This year, the experts say the Sandhills of Nebraska are saturated and the soils there must release, as runoff, any excess rain they receive. And they, like us, have received a lot of it.
The basins that eventually drain to the Missouri are all, also, running bank full so it's a bottle neck that only time and a lack of rain is going to solve. The big river as I know her is like a spoiled rotten child. Say and do anything you want, but she'll stomp her feet and do as she pleases. There is no controlling her. But isn't that the case with all rivers no matter the size. They can seem so peaceful and sleepy and then in one dark and stormy night turn into an unrecognizable creature.
I suppose I'm a little more sensitive than some to the problems all of these large and small rivers can cause. As a county board member I witness it first hand here in our county, and I have spoken to many officials from across our state about the damage caused by rampaging water. The costs of trying to control water, or at least trying to keep it from bringing commerce to a halt, is overwhelming to most governmental bodies, even on a dry year.
Some of my first remembrances were of the rock trucks that were hauling rock to our portion of the Missouri River as part of the Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944. Part of that plan was to make the Missouri navigable from Sioux City, Iowa, south. They hauled limestone, truckload after truckload, day after day and month after month to teach the big river a lesson. As if to say these are now your boundaries, stay there. The meandering river eventually was turned into what some folks refer to as an oversized drainage ditch. The river water sped up and cut deeper as the Army Corp of Engineers carried out the plan. They've spent a lot of our tax money trying to mitigate the damage ever since. They continually try to lay claim to more and more property in an attempt to slow it back down and make fishing what it once was.
But the fact remains that years like these demonstrate to the Corp of Engineers and those of us farming along streams and rivers who really is in charge … and it's not us. The river has now reclaimed most of the land it lost back in the 1950s. At least it has for this growing season.
There's been a lot of water under the bridge since all 8 grades of the kids at District 19 were loaded in three cars and taken on a field trip down to the river to tour the big dredge christened the Meriwether Lewis. It was obviously named for the captain of the Corp of Discovery. It was an impressive display of power for all of us impressionable country school kids. But the most memorable fact for all of the little boys on the trip was the sex education thrown in by the captain. He had a picture of his girl friend taped to the back of the door of the bridge. I know he didn't think to take it down before all of us arrived and I'm just assuming it wasn't a picture of his mom.
I went down to the river tonight and sat in my pickup for a bit and watched as the river ran south with all of its incredible power. Nothing is going to stop it. Nothing will control it. But it runs silently like all of the memories it welled up. The water was right up to the road my truck was sitting on, reminding me of the time my dad had to move all of our possessions out of harms way back in 1952.
Having a big river for a neighbor is like having a really strong parent. No one asks, "Who's the boss around here?" We all know.
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