Monday, May 18, 2015

April 17, 2015, diesel spill near confluence of Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

Blogmaster's note - This post is a month after this incident, which was reported regionally for about two days after the event. We recently read an account of the spill from Mike Clark of Big Muddy Adventures that was so compelling we wanted to make sure it was available on the web for those attempting to research this incident. It gives a very personal, powerful account of the downstream effects of the spill which were not reported in the media. Jump to his report here.

Some reporting -

Background - 
On April 17, 2015, the Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery reported a 25,000 gallon diesel spill (later estimates state 30,000) from a ruptured underwater pipeline in Cahokia Canal, near Wood River, IL, which flows into the Mississippi River just upstream of its confluence with the Missouri. The leak was stopped and US Coast Guard crews and contractors attempted to contain the spill in Cahokia Creek. It was not completely contained, as Mike Clark's account below shows.

There are several unique features on the river at this location. Just downstream on the Mississippi is the Chain of Rocks, a natural rock obstruction that used to create a series of rapids above St. Louis. The Corps of Engineers has created a bypass canal for river traffic (the Chain of Rocks Canal) that dives into Illinois before re-entering the Mississippi above St. Louis. This canal contains a lock and dam structure. This means that the stretch of the Mississippi that is bypassed by the canal is a "non-navigable" stretch of the river. The only non-navigable main stream reach on the river.

The St. Louis city drinking water plant intake is located on the Missouri side of the Mississippi just downstream of the Chain of Rocks on this reach. Because of the influence of the Missouri River here, Mo. Dept. of Natural Resources actually considers this water intake as Missouri River water, chemically and physically distinct from "Mississippi" water, despite the fact that it is technically the Mississippi River.

Also located on this stretch, just downstream but across the river from the drinking water plant, is Mosenthein Island, a wild treasure located in the midst of the St. Louis urban area. This island, reachable only by boat at most river levels, is owned by the Trust for Public Land and remains unmanaged. Big Muddy Adventures has been working to clean up massive trash deposits from the island for many years, and Missouri River Relief has helped out a few times. See some photos from this year's Confluence Trash Bash here. 

Here's an interactive map with some of the sites mentioned above -

It was here that Mike Clark, during a river cleanup canoe trip with local students, discovered the spill and reported it to the federal Emergency Response Team.

Read his report below....

Eyewitness account of downstream effects of the spill

by Mike Clark, Big Muddy Adventures, April 18, 2015
(NOTE - On May 6, two weeks after the spill, Clark reported no visual traces of oil remaining on Mosenthien Island.)

"Yesterday morning, while paddling across the Mississippi on an eco adventure with 15 students and staff of Incarnate Word Academy, we were overcome by the extreme stench of fuel oil.  As we landed on Mosenthein Island preparing to do a trash bash, we began to see the oil slick rolling in.  Another major oil spill? On the eve of the anniversary of the BP Gulf disaster?

I called the US Coast Guard to report it and they referred me to the National Response Center for such disasters.  At the end of my filing of the report while the overwhelming fumes and the horrible sight began to give me a headache, I asked if they had already received a report of this from upstream.  They put me on hold to check, and then came back with a definitive "no."   This was at 11:05 AM.

An hour later, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources called me to confirm and asked my location. I had not contacted the MO DNR.  I gave them exact description including river mileage and proximity to the St. Louis Water intake and treatment plant at Chain of Rocks.  Yes this oil spill is in the reach of our precious water supply.

"At 2:30 PM we returned to our take out having still seen no response except for a helicopter fly over, most likely US Coast Guard.  After some thought and conversation with my friend and river guide, Greg Poleski , I was coaxed into calling the news, KMOV and the Post Dispatch.  After reading the article, I am extremely concerned that either there is a lack of factual reporting, if not some form of a cover up to the size and scope of the disaster, or there is a grave error in their assessment.

"For the record, we took pictures and collected water samplings with oil obviously in it.  We watched over 200 pelicans seek refuge on a wing dike and sand bar unwilling it seems to enter the water with its oily sheen.  We paddled down the Mosenthein Chute where the stench and the visual of the slick continued to grow.  The immature bald eagle who nests on the island with his parents flew circles overhead.  The oil starting to collect on the sand and mud of the bank with the signs of game trails and tracks coming from the island to the water edge to drink.

Obviously, the deer, coyote, raccoons, eagles, herons, etc... are in trouble on Mosey.  So are we.  This is a refuge.  This island survives under the laws of nature.  An oil spill is way, way outside of those laws.  But not our laws regarding the protection against such corporations and people who make so much money and have become adept at the cover up, the negotiation, the refusal to accept any claim of guilt.

"Final thought.  For fifteen years, I have been paddling this amazing reach, the only 11 non-commercially navigable river miles of the Mississippi, with two pristine islands and most of its banks in the public trust.  For 12 years, I have been guiding this reach, and almost always, someone asks "what is that?" as we come into the Confluence and look upstream on our beloved Mississippi River with the refinery a glaring presence on the Illinois side, I mention that it is one of our nation's largest refineries and it sits in what has always been the American Bottoms.  And it has been a never ending concern to me because I do not believe, despite all of the assurances, that this refinery would not someday, have an "accident" and this reach will be poisoned, just as Valdez, and the Gulf Coast, and the pipelines all across this country have proven.

Today, we are witnesses to this.  It saddens me greatly.  But moreover, it angers me, that we are not rushing in to do whatever we can to fully contain, and then begin whatever can be done for a  clean up. It appalls me that the news organizations have buried this from front page, and in fact have simply reported what they have received as a press release.

"Who owns the water?  Who are River Citizens?  Will we all wake up to the glaring signs that our blue planet is in trouble and it is our own making?  Will it be too late?

"I have heard there are dozens and dozens of pipe lines crossing the river there. I'm afraid this incident though small by potential is just one of what has been and will be many more. They are not going to safe guard as they should, beholden to the financial shareholders as they are.  But you know all that. Missouri Coalition for Environment may take this and run with it.

"As it is, Swimming at Mosey may not happen for a while. I'm gonna run the chain this afternoon and check out the after effects now almost two weeks hence."

-Big Muddy Michael F. Clark
Owner, Big Muddy Adventures
Near the Chain of Rocks, St. Louis
email -

Monday, February 9, 2015

Coast Guard seeks Missouri River user comments on navigation

The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River is conducting a Waterways Analysis Management System (WAMS) study of the Missouri River between January 8th and April 8th, 2015.

The Missouri River study includes the navigable waters from Sioux City, Iowa to St. Louis, Mo. and specifically targets the navigation channel, marking of the navigation channel, and commerce.
The study will include looking at waterborne commerce and safe commercial and recreational navigation with a focus on the existing aids to navigation in Missouri River system. The studies are conducted periodically to better understand the user's needs and facilitate safe and effective waterways.

Click here for the pdf User Survey, which must be submitted by April 10, 2015.

Any interested company or individual wishing to provide recommendations on existing or additional aids to navigation in this area, participate in a user survey, or receive further information should contact Sector Upper Mississippi River Waterways Management by April 10th, 2015. Waterways Management can be reached at or by calling 319-520-8556.

Some of the aspects addressed by WAMS are:
•           Are all the aids necessary?
•           Should aids be added, changed or removed?
•           Is the right aid being used for the job?
•           Are the aids marked in a correct and visible manner?
•           Are these aids being used properly by both the Coast Guard and the waterway users?

Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River will hold a public listening session from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on FEBRUARY 25, 2015 to present, and receive feedback on the Missouri River Waterways Analysis and Management System (WAMS) study. 

The listening session will be held at the Jerry Litton Visitor Center, located at Smithville Lake, 16311 DD Hwy, Smithville, MO 64089.

Additionally, any interested company or individual wishing to submit comments on existing or additional aids to navigation in this area, participate in a user survey, or receive further information can do so via the user survey available HERE. The completed questionnaire must be submitted no later than April 10, 2015 and may be emailed to or faxed to 314-269-2742, ATTN: Waterways Management.

It is the intent of Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River to collect comments and materials from this listening session, along with navigation surveys, and other information to establish and preserve the reasonable needs of navigation on this river. For more information, please contact Sector Upper Mississippi River Waterways Waterways Management at

Monday, June 11, 2012

Public Comment wanted on Corps Jameson Island chute extension

 Text by Steve Schnarr, followed by links to several resources about the project. 

An ongoing controversy that is hitting the headlines once again surrounds the completion of the Corps of Engineers constructed chute on Jameson Island Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge near Arrow Rock, MO.

Public Comment is currently being accepted by the Corps regarding the latest phase of the project, extending the chute downstream. The Missouri Clean Water Commission is also considering whether to allow the project. In 2007, the project was halted when the Clean Water Commission put a stop order on chute construction and the dumping of sediment into the river.

The Corps is attempting to gain permission on a project that would extend the chute, moving the mouth downstream. They have proposed four alternatives on the chute construction, and the deadline for public comment on those alternatives has been extended to June 30 due to public and state pressure. The four alternatives are 1) no action, 2) Excavate a 75-foot pilot channel for the chute and stockpile the sediment along the banks, 3) Excavate the entire planned 200 foot width of the chute and stockpile the sediment outside the limits of the chute’s planned meander and 4) dredge a pilot channel for the chute, injecting all sediment as a slurry into the Missouri River.The Corps preferred alternative is #4. They say this will be the least expensive option that has the least environmental impact.

The original stop order from the Clean Water Commission was because the Corps was dumping excavated sediment into the river. The Commission said that dumping sediment in the river was illegal for developers and farmers and it should not be legal for the Corps of Engineers. The Corps stopped work on the chute, which was eventually opened up by natural high river flows. In last year’s high water flows the chute took more of the river’s flow than allowed. This past winter the Corps placed a flow and grade control structure near the head of the chute to reduce and control flow through the chute.

The Corps also requested a study be done by the National Academy of Science into the impact on water quality and gulf hypoxia by their restoration projects, which always involve introducing new sediment into the river either by excavation or erosion. The NAS study was released in 2010 and concluded that the Missouri River and the Mississippi Delta are starved for sediment, nearly 80% of which is trapped behind the mainstem Missouri dams. NAS saw no significant impact from the projects.

The Corps agreed to requests to extend the public comment period. There will be a public meeting on June 11, and the public comment period ends June 30.

This post will contain a variety of links and photos regarding the project to help you understand the history, context and meaning of the controversy. 

Corps Public Comment and documents related to the Jameson Island Chute
Clean Water Commission Meeting – 5-2-12
Newspaper Articles
Marshall Democrat News articles, Marshall, MO

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Asian Carp may find back way

Originally published May 13, 2012 in the Albert Lea Tribune - Albert Lea, MN.
Click here for original link. 

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s a back door for Asian carp to sneak into Minnesota, and fisheries officials are worried that the invaders might have found it already.

Commercial fishermen recently caught dozens of Asian carp in northwestern Iowa’s Great Lakes, one of that state’s most popular vacation spots. Those waters connect with lakes and streams in southwestern Minnesota, so the haul came as an unwelcome surprise to Minnesota officials who’ve been more focused on the higher-profile fight against Asian carp infiltrating up the Mississippi River.

“We view it as a big threat. …These fish don’t recognize political boundaries,” said Ryan Doorenbos, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Windom.

No bighead or silver Asian carp have been caught in southwestern Minnesota, but a few have been netted on the east side of the state in the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. Officials have been trying for a few years to develop a strategy to stop them from advancing up the Mississippi past Minneapolis, but they’ve just started studying their options for the southwest.

Returning to the River

Video originally published May 12, 2012 on WOWT - Omaha. 
Click here for original link and to view video.

by Gary Smollen
The impact of last summers flood along the Missouri River can still be seen in many areas. People are returning to the river but in some cases some efforts to make things right have been slowed by bureaucracy and thieves.

All along the river there are piles of sand and silt left behind by the receding water. As the Missouri returned inside its banks the people started returning to their recreational areas but it some cases they were totally wiped out.

Channel 6 News was there as one campsite was evacuated last year, on Saturday we returned to see how things have changed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Officials advise caution with low releases

 Releases from Gavins Point Dam reduced to zero with spillway tests

This article was originally published in the Yankton Press & Dakotan on May 9, 2012
Click here to read original news story link.

Also, here's a couple links to Yankton P&D stories regarding the same story:
From P&D Staff Reports
The National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are reminding the public to use caution today (Wednesday) as releases at Gavins Point Dam will be halted in order for a damage assessment to be conducted.

Water releases will be reduced beginning at 6 a.m. and continue incrementally until they reach 0 cfs. The releases will remain at 0 cfs for no more than eight hours and will be slowly increased back to normal flow levels. The river level is forecast to drop by eight feet at Yankton and will fall to similar levels downriver. Flow levels may change without notice.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Missouri River flooding fractures farm life on Nebraska Teardrop

This article was originally published in the Nebraska City News Press on April 27, 2012
 Click here to read original news story link. 
By Dan Swanson
 Additional links:

Nebraska City, Neb. —
Like the federal flood levee that finally gave way to the Missouri River near Hamburg, Iowa, this summer, Clayton Lang's life is fractured.

It's a perilous time to plant a crop, he said, when wind can whip up enough dirt to bury an emerging seedling or drive enough sand to shred plants the moment they appear on the barren, brown landscape.

“It looks like a desert out there,” Lang said. “I don't see how some of the bottom ground will ever be farmed again. It's just open and barren. There's no color to it,” he said.