The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, flowing for 2,341 miles (3,767 km) from its source in the Rocky Mountains of Montana to its confluence with the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Missouri. But how did it achieve this remarkable feat, and what are the challenges it faces today?
The Missouri River has a long and rich history, dating back to the prehistoric times when it was carved by glaciers and erosion. It was explored by Native Americans, fur traders, and pioneers, and became a vital transportation route for the westward expansion of the United States. It was also the site of many historical events, such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Missouri Compromise, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The river also has a diverse and complex ecology, supporting more than 300 species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants. It provides water for drinking, irrigation, hydropower, navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat. It is part of the largest watershed in North America, draining more than 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 km 2), which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
However, the river also faces many environmental challenges, such as pollution, sedimentation, dams, floods, droughts, and invasive species. The river has been altered by human activities, such as channelization, levees, reservoirs, and diversions, which have changed its natural flow, shape, and function. The river has also been affected by climate change, which has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall, snowmelt, and heat waves.
The river is currently experiencing high water levels due to a combination of these factors, which could pose a threat to public safety and infrastructure along the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the river, has been releasing water from upstream reservoirs to prevent flooding and to meet downstream demands. However, this also increases the risk of erosion, bank failure, and damage to bridges, roads, and buildings.
The Corps has been working with other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as stakeholders and the public, to balance the multiple and competing needs of the river. Col. Mark Himes, commander of the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said, “The Missouri River Basin is a vital resource for the nation, providing water for drinking, irrigation, hydropower, navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat” .
However, he also acknowledged the challenges and uncertainties that the river faces, saying, “We are in uncharted territory. There’s more water than we’ve ever seen in our reservoirs” . John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, echoed this sentiment, saying, “We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have a lot of water to move through the system” .
The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings and advisories for several areas along the river, and has urged the public to be cautious and prepared. Matt Krajewski, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Omaha, said, “We want people to be aware of the situation and prepare accordingly. Don’t drive through flooded roads, don’t go near the river banks, and follow the instructions of local authorities” .
Julie Arthur, emergency management coordinator for Boone County, said that the county has been monitoring the river and has activated its emergency operations center. She said, “We have been in contact with the Corps and the NWS, and we have been updating our residents and businesses on the situation. We have also been coordinating with our first responders and volunteers, and we have been preparing for any potential impacts” .
The Missouri River is a living, dynamic system that is constantly changing. It is important to understand its natural processes and human impacts, and to balance the needs of the people and the environment.
– Missouri River Basin: A Vital Resource for the Nation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, November 9, 2023
– Missouri River flooding: What you need to know, KETV NewsWatch 7, November 10, 2023
– Missouri River water levels expected to rise, KOMU 8, November 13, 2023