Ohio, Mississippi rivers flooding solution: Create ‘river park’

ABOVE: Confluence of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, Ill. (2006 photo courtesy NASA)

COLUMBUS — Locating a national park at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in southern Illinois, western Kentucky and southeastern Missouri could solve a number of problems simultaneously.

William Mitsch, an environment and natural resources professor at Ohio State and director of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, said that would allow for seasonal flooding of floodplains to produce a vast wetland, reducing property damage and loss caused by flooding at that site and along the lower Mississippi River watershed.

It could also attract tourism to an economically depressed area and provide educational opportunities about rivers and wetlands.

Prime location

“That would be the best place for a national river park. All of the bottomland should be a national park,” Mitsch said. “It should not be farm land. The flooding should be allowed to take place there.”

The area he’s pinpointed includes the area where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently breached one of their levees to reduce downstream flooding.

A new Everglades

Mitsch likens the concept of a freshwater river park to the Everglades National Park in Florida.

“There should be something equivalent to the Florida Everglades surrounding our rivers, but there isn’t,” he said. “Over time, about 80 percent of the land would be forested.”

Such a park ultimately could help reduce the annual formation of a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico by absorbing and trapping nitrogen and other chemicals upstream, he said.

Nitrogen, a major component of fertilizers, starves water of oxygen. He said the annual runoff from farms into the Mississippi and Ohio River watersheds contributes to a 7,000-square-mile dead zone in the gulf each year, which can’t support aquatic life.

Proposed elsewhere

Mitsch’s idea was inspired in part by the Wednesday visit and lecture on campus by Donald L. Hey, co-founder of The Wetlands Initiative Inc. and executive director of Wetlands Research Inc., which manages the Des Plaines River Wetlands Demonstration Project in Lake County, Ill.

In his lecture, Hey proposed formation of a national riverine park along the Upper Mississippi River from Minnesota to southern Illinois.

6 Comments

  1. Jerry Hay says:

    Finally someone understands that the natural floodplains that have been cut off by levees are needed and serve to reduce flooding. Levees do not reduce flooding, they cause it. These natural “release valves” along the rivers should be put back. Good plan!

  2. okiestorm1 says:

    Easy for them to say when it’s not thier land!

  3. STELLA COOK says:

    SO WHERE DID THIS BEGIN? THE US CORPS OF ENGINEERS DECIDES IT IS BETTER TO SAVE CAIRO, IL.
    BY BLOWING UP LEEVES THERE, AND FLOOD EVERY SMALL TOWN AND FLATLAND ALL THE WAY TO THE GULF. NOW, WHO THOUGHT THAT UP?

  4. CLM says:

    100 year flood plains are not the place to build permanent structures for people to reside. It is unclear what would consitute an average year in this particular flood plain. Would corn, soybean or wheat crops be flooded at least five years out of ten to make them a bad investment? Could rice be grown? The growing world population needs to be fed.

  5. Jerry Hay says:

    Floodplains become rich soil for farming due to the nutrients that the river leaves in the soil. It is natural fertilization. Land that was once a floodplain, then cut off by levees becomes depleted then farmers must use more chemicals to make up for the poor soil quality. It is a risk to farm in a floodplain but there are also benefits. If we fight the river, it will win. We must learn to live within the boundaries that the rivers provide.

  6. tdmarkets says:

    I agree Jerry, of course it makes sense . even in China, they are now
    having to make changes and they actually want to decrease the number of small towns to help the energy grid. There are many changes this country needs to make anyway. All the rain we are getting today in the Ohio valley is heading towards there in the next few days.

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