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Drought photos may convey unintended message

January 7, 2013Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Drought photos may convey unintended message

We all know the maxim “A picture is worth a thousand words.  The eight photos shown in this sequence aren’t quite enough to match the tens of thousands of words being spilled about the Mississippi River’s declining water levels and the threat (or not) to commerce, but they’re a start.

By USACE Team Saint Louis

By USACE Team Saint Louis

But you should look a little closer at these photos.  What do you see?  A lot of barges concentrated in some areas; ok, that’s fine, to be expected when the river’s depths are variable.  Photo #6 shows a lot more though.  There’s a massive quarry, or maybe open pit mine, adjacent to the river, separated only by a levee that looks like it might double as a service road.  I think the photo is in the Upper Mississippi, because the wing dams that are highly visible in the lower center of the picture are features of the effort to maintain a 6 foot channel a century ago.  But look at the water–it’s the color of pea soup, a lightish green that looks like it has absorbed a LOT of dust and other matter from the quarry.

I realize that the drought and the quarry are unrelated issues, that the quarry probably isn’t dumping enough waste into the river to exacerbate low water conditions.  Still, the fact that we see the river as a tool to use as we see fit, a system that, when it doesn’t work for us requires us to manipulate it still harder, is grimly illustrated here.

And the final shot in the sequence is breathtaking in its illustration of when-is-a-river-not-a-river.  The river here is a canal, an industrial thing that simplifies all systems, rather than the living heart of the continent.


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