For as long as people have been living with rivers, we have been changing them. Put up a levee to keep water away from where we don’t want it. Build a canal to move water to where we do want it. Put up a dam to stop floods or generate water power. Over millennia, the possibilities have been endless.
More recently, though, we have started something new: intervening in rivers to undo some of the changes we have previously made. My review of a couple of programs across the country gives a broad context for what has become a growing pattern of dam removal and alteration.
Close to home, the Upper St. Anthony Lock was closed in June 2015. That decision led to a study that asked: just what do we know about how the river’s biological and physical systems are behaving at this point, now that the dam has closed? Now that the lock is closed, can we establish some scientific baseline data so that we can begin to monitor how the river behaves?
Some answers to these questions are detailed in Jane Mazack’s feature article “The Once and Future River.” Fellow scientists Jessica Kozarek and Carrie Jennings also contribute perspectives on the sorts of insights that come from detailed studies of particular river reaches.
Unfortunately, often rivers make the news through their destructive capacity. Last month’s Hurricane Matthew unleashed torrents of rain, storm surge, and other watery mayhem on the low-lying areas in eastern North Carolina. In our Issue Two, published last spring, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. wrote about the racial dimensions of flooding in this landscape; we reprint his article here with a head note connecting to coverage of the recent floods.
Every issue of Open Rivers contains shorter pieces covering particular aspects of the study and understanding of rivers, and this one of course is no exception. Laurie Moberg explores what we can learn from successive historic photographs of the site that now contains Minneapolis’ Upper Harbor Terminal, a landscape sure to change now that barge traffic has ceased. Maxyne Friesen writes about how it felt to be an undergraduate student researcher on the bigger river study that Mazack led. Tim Frye reviews recent scholarship on rivers in Latin America. Mona Smith reminds us that St. Anthony Falls contains much more than our scientific studies can ever understand.
All of which is to serve as a reminder for one of our basic principles: scientific study is necessary, but not sufficient, in generating the knowledge and perspectives that we need in order to plan for sustainable, inclusive futures for our relationships with rivers.
Nunnally, Patrick. 2016. “Introduction to Issue Four” Open Rivers: Rethinking The Mississippi, no. 4. https://editions.lib.umn.edu/openrivers/article/introduction-to-issue-four/.
Download PDF of Introduction to Issue Four by Patrick Nunnally.