Mar 162015

Twelve years after authorization of what was then called Kaysinger Dam, and a little more than two years before the actual groundbreaking commencement of construction, Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. W. K. Wilson, Jr. recommended to the Secretary of the Army the addition of power generators and a larger conservation pool to the already massive project. Senator Stuart Symington was also informed of the recommendation.The Star notes this will make the reservoir larger than Lake of the Ozarks.

Not surprising – the cost was creeping up. Read all about it!  KCStar_03.16.62

Nov 202014

In Damming the Osage we question the wisdom of the seven multipurpose Corps of Engineers dams and reservoirs built on the Osage River. The case we make against these public works projects is based on the flawed logic of the Pick-Sloan Plan that asserted that there was enough flood control storage behind government dams to avert flooding on the Missouri-Mississippi river system. This has proven not to be true. There was a strong lobby to build these water resource control projects; the Army Corps of Engineers cannot be held solely responsible.


When the Osage is low, Lock & Dam No. 1 is revealed to be a wreckage of wood, concrete, and steel. It should be removed before it fails. That it is privately owned complicates this costly necessity. Mr. Rice’s rash decision to buy this misconceived project has continuing consequences.

The Corps is a curious mixture of superb engineering skills and source of grotesque information. One of the dumbest projects in their history was the construction of Lock and Dam No. 1 built in the early 1900s about ten miles from the Osage River’s confluence with the Missouri. It was built to facilitate virtually non-existent steamboat travel and commerce on the river.

The Corps discontinued operation of the lock and dam in September 1951. It had been problematic from the beginning from an engineering standpoint and by the time the Corps got tired of maintaining it, it was badly deteriorated. While many of the projects the Corps builds are of questionable justification, this bureaucracy is not stupid.

The Corps offered to donate the ill-conceived and deteriorating lock and dam to Missouri state agencies but they saw nothing but problems and declined the opportunity. So the Corps put it up for bid and landed a sucker. A short article in the Tri-City Herald, Mar 24, 1960 tells the story of one of the dumbest purchases of real estate in history:



James N. Rice soon will become the owner of a genuine United States government lock and dam – but dam if he knows what he’s going to do with it.

The property is U. S. Lock and Dam N. 1 – there never was a No. 2 – on the Osage River. It’s 14 miles southeast of Jefferson City, near where the Osage empties into the Missouri.

Rice will become the owner because a bid of $10,500 he submitted proved to the highest among 20 received by the General Services Administration.

Rice, 42, a bachelor who works for the State Detective Bureau, was surprised when a newsman told him the GSA had accepted his offer.

What will he do with his acquisition?

“Dam if I know. I hadn’t given the matter any thought because I had no idea my bid would be high enough. I like to fish, and I understand the fishing is real good out there. I guess that’s what was in the back of my mind when I bid on it. I might make a resort out of it sometime.

The rundown property includes about 10 acres of park-like land beside the river, three old frame houses, and several lesser structures. The concrete-base dam is 17 feet high and 220 feet long. Its lock is 42 feet wide.

The facility was built in the early 1900s to provide water for shallow-draft barges to make it up the river as far as Warsaw, Mo., 173 miles from the mouth. River traffic in those days was heavy, but construction of Bagnell Dam 25 miles upstream in the 1930s put No. 1 out of business. The Corps of Engineers maintained No. 1 until nine years ago. Then it tried to lease the property to some civic, fraternal or conservation group – free, except for maintenance costs.

There were no takers. One reason was that there is no way to get to it except by a privately owned road or by the river.

This doesn’t worry Rice, who figures he can work an agreement to use the road.

As for paying for the lock and dam, he says he’ll do it in cash, “but it will mean scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Photograph from May 1, 1960, Kansas City Star.  The caption reads: “The new owner of Osage Lock and Dam No. 1 looks over a part of his property. James N. Rice of Jefferson City “private eye” and avowed fisherman, examines part of the rusty mechanism that opens and closes the locks on the Osage River near the capital city.

Photograph from May 1, 1960, Kansas City Star.
The caption reads: “The new owner of Osage Lock and Dam No. 1 looks over a part of his property. James N. Rice of Jefferson City “private eye” and avowed fisherman, examines part of the rusty mechanism that opens and closes the locks on the Osage River near the capital city.

Not much came of his development plans. Since then, it has even further deteriorated and could collapse. It is in a perilous, sad state of disrepair. We’ve discussed the ramifications of this extensively in a separate section of this website ( ) and linked to studies and reports by various government agencies that study and protect wildlife.

Lock & Dam No. 1 is a hazard to navigation and has caused drownings. The potential legal liability to the private owners of this ruin is enormous.

Give the Corps credit for anticipating these issues and divesting themselves of this dysfunctional disaster-waiting-to-happen.

Nov 182014

Construction photograph of Lock & Dam No. 1. The pièce de résistance of the futile effort to render the Osage River navigable was Lock & Dam No. 1. In the twentieth century, Army Engineers became renowned for escalating the price of a dam after Congressional authorization and work had started. Underestimating construction costs has long been a skill of the Corps.

After half a century of headaches the Army Corps of Engineers ceased operation of Lock & Dam No. 1 ten miles from the junction of the Osage and Missouri rivers. It saw little traffic and was a maintenance nightmare.

We recently ran across a 1956 newspaper article that mentioned a consternation we had not been aware of. When the Corps couldn’t keep the gates in the open position, they removed the set of gates on the lower lock, thus lowering the water level by five to five and a half feet upstream. Locals complained that they couldn’t get their boats over the riffles.

The article from the Jefferson City Post Tribune, April 26, 1956, hints that there are legitimate parties interested in taking over responsibility for this deteriorating blockage of the Osage River. While waiting for congressional approval to dump Lock & Dam No. 1, Lt. Col. Threadgill was actually trying to interest various Missouri state agencies in acquiring it. They were too smart to accept this colossal chunk of liability:


The Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 property may be up for lease or sale in the future, but for the time being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property.”

The Army Corps of Engineers position on sale or leasing of the property, which has popped up among organizations here in the past, was voiced by L. T. Col. Walton O. Threadgill acting district engineer in Kansas City.

A Jefferson City resident who owns a cottage on the Osage River revealed Army Engineers personnel were working on the site recently. The Corps of Engineers discontinued operation of the lock and dam in September, 1951. Lt. Col. Threadgill confirmed the report.

Some difficulties

He said that “difficulties were experienced in maintaining the gates in the open position” and on March 28 “the two gates at the downstream end of the lock were removed by field personnel of this office to eliminate further difficulties.”

The lock’s gates had been secured in an open position in September, 1951, to permit a free flow through the lock at all times, the colonel said. The Corps of Engineers did this when it pulled its last employee from the property.

But keeping the locks open is proving a big thorn for property owners above the lock and dam, a local resident said yesterday. He added that when a number of them built cottages there was five to five and a half feet of water so they could easily move their boats.

But with the lock at the open position permanently, there is “only 12 to 14 inches of water in normal stages on several shoals and we have difficulty moving our boats.”

How about leasing or purchase of the property? Some organizations have considered such a step with the view of converting the property into a wildlife haven and/or recreational area.

Office reluctant

Lt. Col. Threadgill, noting that a bill is before Congress to provide for the disposal of federally-owned property “at obsolete, canalized waterways and for other purposes,” said the district office, “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property involved until congressional action is consummated.”

The bill was introduced in Congress during last year’s session but no final action was taken.

“It is anticipated that legislation will ultimately be adopted authorizing the disposal of the subject property but the conditions and methods of the disposal cannot be determined prior to such enactment,” the Colonel said.

No formal application

He added that, “several inquiries have been received by the Kansas city office, but no formal application to lease or purchase the property is on file in this office at this time.” While the Army Corps of Engineers has no employees assigned or stationed at the project, Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “periodic inspections are made, however to safeguard the government property.”

The Colonel said that cessation of operations at the lock and dam in 1951 “conforms with a nation-wide policy of discontinuing operations of obsolete waterways in order to achieve economy in costs of maintenance.”

Long history

The lock and dam had a long and undoubtedly colorful history before it was closed down in 1951. Records show it was completed in 1914. It is 42 feet wide and 229 feet long.

The project Lt. Col. Threadgill said, was authorized by the River and Harbor Acts approved on Sept. 19, 1890 and March 3, 1899. The project provided for a lock and dam near the mouth of the Osage River and for open channel work consisting of wing dams, training walls, removal of obstructions and dredgings between the mouth and Warsaw, Mo., a distance of 171 miles, “to obtain a uniform depth of 3 feet.”

Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “The wickets and weirs which formed the moveable crest of the dam were removed many years ago.”

In the heyday of the lock and dam, steamboats and rafts were “all important as a means of moving cargoes, but with the construction of good roads, railroads and highways over which the products of the area are now moved to market, the use of the Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 dwindled to passage of only on occasion pleasure craft or fishing boat,” the colonel spelled out.

And he wrote: “The Osage River waterway has ceased to be an artery of commerce for the Osage valley. Since the operation of the lock and dam was of no benefit to commercial navigation, and the negligible collateral benefits did not justify the continuing operation of the structure at federal expense, the operation of the project was discontinued during September, 1951.”

In our next post, we’ll relate how a “bachelor and private eye” was suckered in to paying cash for this major liability.

Jun 022014

From Twain’s portraits of the river and its denizens to romantic photo essays, environmental analyses, and personal memoirs, a river of words about the Mississippi have flowed through the nation’s literary history. It’s an imposing torrent in which to launch an account of generations of legal and political actions that have shaped the ‘river’ as we experience it today.

Mississippi_River_Tragediessters-51Awt-QVnuLMississippi River: A Century of Unnatural Disaster is a tale of hubris told by clear thinking legal storytellers. Describing the high (or low) points of disasters and legislative and political reactions, Mississippi River Tragedies showcases the many and myriad ways that greed arrogance and – mostly – hubristic exertion of will and technology have contrived to constrain and compel the Mississippi River into a tame chute …. Apparently to no avail. For the river still breaks these arbitrarily imposed confines (as recently as 2011) – and still we call these prison escapes “natural disasters.”

Some might think that a book on water resource law, its evolution over generations and its effects on landscape and human culture would be dry, obscure and hard to read.  Very much to the contrary! Authors and attorneys Christine Klein and Sandra Zellmer (self described “Mississippi River children”) spin a highly readable account from the mistakes, blunders, miscalculations, misunderstandings and sheer stupidity or ignorance that have been imposed on the mightiest river of our continent and the people who have tried to control it and those who live along it, with it.

Klein and Zellmer follow policy evolution from the Corps of Engineers “levees only” management of rivers for navigation to the wholesale fortification of the mighty stream with locks and dams creating a ”Stairway of Water” from the river’s headwaters to its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.  Dams with mammoth reservoirs were built on the main stem of the Missouri River, primary tributary of the Mississippi, to hold back (in theory) or slow down run off from excessive rain or snow melt. Relief valves, called floodways, another ‘tool in the flood-control toolbox’ were conceived following the floods of 1937. Their function was dramatically illustrated in 2011 when the Corps dynamited Bird’s Point levee in southeast Missouri to lower a flooding Mississippi, thus ‘protecting’ the more valuable town of Cairo, Illinois.  Residents of tiny Pinhook, Missouri on the other hand were flooded out, along with 130,000 acres of productive farmland.

After setting the stage of how the Mississippi became an “unnatural river,” the authors recount decade by decade the ‘natural’ disasters that led to legislation aimed at controlling the power of an immense watershed, and the expanding authorities of the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency charged with engaging in battle with the river monster.  With the new authorities, Congress provided the Corps legal immunity from liability if floodwaters caused damages in spite of their engineering efforts.

Congress attacked the problem from non-engineering angles as well, expanding disaster assistance programs and establishing and funding the National Flood Insurance Program despite private sector assessment that the risks of insuring flood-prone properties outweighed the benefits (profit potential). These programs combined to allow, even encourage continued development in areas the river once claimed as its natural floodplain.

The authors illustrate legal concepts through case studies and court proceedings bringing into sharp focus how the workings of government and the judiciary impact the daily lives and fortunes of citizens. Immense ‘natural’ disasters from river risings (the 1927 Mississippi River flood and those of 1937, the early 1950s and the Great Midwest Floods of 1993) to hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, are eye-opening tales of legislative reaction, engineering blunders and mismanagement, the evolution of judicial interpretation of laws and policy, and lessons not learned or not implemented.

Their historical perspective on ‘how we got here’ leads to conclusions that are almost stunning in their simplicity but born of painful lessons learned in the aftermath of these ‘unnatural disasters.’  For example, settlement increases in at-risk areas because of the false security offered by levees and dams.  And the simple solution? Discourage development – residential and commercial – in floodplains, even if “protected” by a levee. A recommendation that has been made before, over the decades and not heeded (as an example, read their account of “Chesterfield, Missouri: Building and Rebuilding in a Floodplain.”)

Other recommendations include changing the National Flood Insurance Program or turning it over the private sector to write actuarially sound policies; eliminating immunity for federal agencies – i.e. the Corps – for negligent acts causing flood damage; reforming the metrics used in justifying flood control project – i.e. the easily manipulated cost-benefit analysis used to justify major projects; give nature (rivers) some space to expand and contract in response to seasonal or weather condition.

Theirs is a reasoned and researched account of official policy, legislation, and judicial decisions that have led to the myriad unintended consequences we read about in headlines nearly every spring.

Klein and Zellmer pull back the curtain on Mississippi River “management,” but behind that curtain they don’t find a genial wizard of water resource development. Rather, they uncover a complex story of political, judicial, bureaucratic and scientific confrontation that continues in the courts today. It’s a fascinating account of the river we thought we knew and how it got that way.

It is good to see another book – like John Barry’s Rising Tide – that acknowledges that river management is a confluence of hydrology and politics and culture.

The book is available at


In 2012 Congress passed a law to reform the National Flood Insurance Program and return it to solvency. Biggert-Waters put in place actuarially sound insurance rates that would reflect the real risks of living in flood prone areas. Following Hurricane Sandy, politicians scrambled to respond to the ire of voters whose insurance rates were about to go up significantly. On March 21, 2014, President Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 – repealing many of the reforms contained in Biggert-Waters.

Ironically, the dam-building juggernaut that is the Corps of Engineers has recently shifted focus and begun to include other strategies in their zeal to control moving water. The term “ecosystem services” now describes the role played by wetlands and floodplains in water management.  How such enlightened green measures will interface with their earlier structural methods – which are still very much in place and require ongoing maintenance – remains to be seen

May 282014

Consequences (intended or not) and pernicious effects of Truman Dam and Reservoir for residents of the upper Osage River.

We received a fat envelope in the mail a few weeks ago that included an “open letter to the Corps of Engineers” which was published in the St. Clair County Courier in 1997. Written by Lawrence B. Lewis, a retired Episcopal priest, it’s an extended appraisal of the effect of Truman Dam and Reservoir on the residents of St. Clair County. Mr. Lewis’s family immigrated to the upper Osage River in the 1830s.

Mr. Lewis was kind enough to supply this photograph, which shows his father, Bernard Reynolds Lewis (second from right), dangling his feet over the bow of a barge being pushed by a small steamboat called Rambler.  B. R. Lewis served in the U.S. Navy in both World Wars I and II.

osage-navyPhoto by Becraft, “Osage Navy, 1906, Flag Ship Rambler”

We’re assuming that this was an excursion about to get under way from Osceola to Monegaw Springs as we have a photograph (page 68, Damming the Osage) of an almost identical barge pushed by steamboat, captioned “Excursion – Osceola to Monegaw, June 20, ’09”. Becraft was an excellent photographer in Osceola in the early 1900s. We have a number of his sharp focus, technically excellent photographs in the book.

We always assumed that there were people suspicious of the benefits of Truman Dam in Osceola, but during the lawsuit promoters of the project drowned out their objections. Today, the situation is reversed and it’s hard to find a supporter. Truman Dam is widely recognized to have been a disaster for the town.

With his permission, we republish Mr. Lewis’s letter in its entirety below:

An open letter to the Operations Project Manager,
U. S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Rt. 2, Box 29A,
Warsaw MO 65355.

Dear Diane Parks:

In the September 11, 1997, issue of the St. Clair County Courier, you were quoted as inviting public comment about Truman Dam, after visiting here with our Mayor about the “delta” forming from silt accumulating in Truman Lake at Osceola, and attempting to put the best face on the situation that you could. As someone who has recently moved back home to Osceola because it’s where my wife and I want to live out the years of my retirement, Truman Lake mud flats and all, I’m writing to offer background and also proposals for action concerning the dam and lake.

As Catherine D. Johnson stated in her letter in the September 25 Courier, plans for a new flood control dam date from the 1930s. Then shortly after the close of World War II a proposal was made to construct a flood control dam just upstream from Osceola. Eventually, after it was seen that much of the reservoir would be very shallow, a location was determined on at Kaysinger Bluff near Warsaw.

My father, Bernard R. Lewis, who was born in Osceola in 1896 and died here in 1968, had both historical perspective and a keen interest in the Kaysinger Bluff dam proposal. B. R. Lewis had grown up on the Osage River. When in his teens, along with his brother Lawrence, he ran a passenger boat service between Osceola and the popular rustic summer resort of Monegaw Springs.

B. R. Lewis told me that although the Osage had always flooded, really destructive floods began to occur only after water projects upstream in Bates and Vernon count1es turned meandering streams into straight ditches, and wetlands into crop land, shortly before World War I. The channelization enriched farmers there, but sent floodwater slamming down into St. Clair County and locations farther downstream in amounts not experienced before.

My father’s take on it was that if it had not been for the upstream water projects, then runoff due to poor soil conservation practices especially during the Great Depression, Congress and the Corps of Engineers might not have thought about a large flood control dam in our region.

There was considerable enthusiasm in Osceola for the Kaysinger Dam project in the 1960s. People will tell you now that it was because the Corps of Engineers deceived our civic leaders about the kind of lake the dam would make. I don’t buy that. My father, who was himself an Osceola civic leader, knew the elevation above sea level of the dam at Warsaw, looked at a contour map of Osceola, and figured out that, obviously, we would have mud flats. My guess is that if he said that to other civic leaders, they didn’t want to hear it. In their minds they saw a lake like the one at Warsaw now, because that’s what they wanted to see. Visions of tourism dollars danced in their heads, clouding their vision; but I really don’t think the Corps thrust “delta” predictions in front of their faces to bring them back to reality.

Bernard Lewis was not the only one who did not catch the lake fever. A farmer downstream on the Osage filed suit with assistance from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to stop the Corps from obtaining two farms which had been in the family for generations. The EDF was in 1ts early days, still headquartered in a little town on the north shore of Long Island. They wished to stop construction of Kaysinger Dam 1n order to preserve what was left of the free-flowing Osage River downstream from the old Osceola Dam and above the headwaters of the Lake of the Ozarks. The cover of one their newsletters featured a black and white photo of the Osage from a bluff top.

The farmer and other family members were denounced in the pages of the county paper for bringing in “outsiders” to interfere with a worthwhile project, getting in the way of “progress.” My response was to join the Environmental Defense Fund. Now a quarter of a century later I still send yearly dues to thank them for defending a river that was important in the lives of my father, grandfather and the great-grandfather (Dr. Lawrence Lewis) who moved to Osceola in 1839.

EDF, the farmer and his family and other litigants from the region lost in court. I’m not sure if their suit was related to the requirement that the Corps make a study of the cost-benefit ratio of the project. The hydro-electric power generators may have been added to the project to bring the benefits over the costs. Electricity would be sold to power companies in the heartland of America and the project would pay its way.

The generators were added at great expense and soon proved to be partially unusable because of the massive fish kills caused by their pump-back feature. When he learned of this, I recall that Senator John Danforth termed Truman Dam “an environmental “disaster.” I was glad to hear a respected public servant to say what I’d been thinking.

Why was Kaysinger/Truman Dam built? I turn to another honest, bright government official who spoke his conscience. President Dwight Eisenhower warned citizens about the power of the “military-industrial complex” in a speech he gave in the late 1950s. Army Corps of Engineers dams were the source of juicy contracts for the construction industry. I think of Truman Dam as almost a classic “pork barrel” project. I think of those expensive, fish-killing generators getting added onto the project. Oink

But there is more to it. In the 1960s my father wrote to at least one U.S. Senator to tell him (prophetically, I believe) that the purpose of Kaysinger Dam was to create “a settling basin for the Lake of the Ozarks” – at the expense of the loss to St. Clair County of its best bottomland.

Yes, our flood control reservoir does protect the water level of the Lake of the Ozarks and its bi1lions of dollars of lakeshore investment; and we catch the silt. For those reasons I believe that Truman Dam will never be decomissioned, though I enjoy imagining it.

In all fairness, I believe the Corps has changed since the 1960s. Someone pointed out to me that Truman Dam was one of the last they built. From what 1ittle I’ve heard, it sounds as if the Corps is beginning to have more respect for natura1 processes in the management of waters, more willingness to cooperate with nature rather than fight it. Also, I think they realize how upland conservation has begun to help prevent floods.

You can, though, still   expect to find an image problem among people in and around Osceola on the subject of Truman Lake. I respectfully offer two suggestions of things the Corps might do to help. Both of them have several sub-parts.

  1. The Corps needs publicly and officially to offer a sincere apology to the people of Osceola and St. Clair County, and to do it from the national, not the local or regional level. If you think I mean apologizing for building Truman Dam, that’s too simple. Here is my   list of what the Corps should humbly ask pardon for doing:

–Flooding good bottom land on which farmers grew food to feed a hungry world. Tourist dollars at Warsaw mask the loss of America’s real wealth which was the land.

— Forcing people from their homes and farms. I refer you to the works of Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer and author, on the value of place; and again to Catherine Johnson’s letter in which she cites the pressure and sometimes deceptive methods by which citizens were displaced. Also, one sometimes hears comments on arbitrary and irregular “take” lines.

–Flooding riparian forest that moderated our climate and served as habitat for an incredible community of biologically diverse animals and plants. Just go to the Sac-Osage roadside park on Highway 82 and look out over miles of country that used to be green and alive. The devastation pierces the heart.

–Using the flood plain here to protect downstream investments after we had already been used by upstream farmers to receive the excess water they caused by destroying the wetlands which had stored water, then released it slowly.

— Flooding springs.

— Disrupting the life cycles of fish and other aquat1c creatures of the rivers and creeks of the many watersheds involved.

— Destroying, in the town of Osceola, whole neighborhoods with tree-shaded streets and interesting late 19th century houses, many businesses and at least one church.

Reducing Osceola’s populat1on by more than a third by destroying those neighborhoods.

–Destroying Osceola’s unique stone train depot that could have been a worthy nomination to the National Register of Historic Places

–Taking away the rai1road the depot served, thereby necessitating a few more pavement-destroying, life-threatening giant transport trucks on Highway 13. We don’t even have a rails-to-trails project to compensate for the loss of the railroad.

–Using explosives violently to obliterate Osceola Dam, the key symbol in the identity of the Best Town by a Damsite.”

Those are some of the things the Corps needs to apologize for.

Others could doubtless add to the list. A good spokesperson would be Vice President Al Gore. As the author of Earth in the Balance, he would need only minimal coaching as to why an apology is needed. Let the Corps bring him to Osceola to deliver its apology on behalf of the United States of America. Be sure to put the apology in writing as well, and see that it is published widely. For that matter, Mr. Gore’s boss has proved himself teachable, and the office of President of the United States deserves respect, whether or not one likes the person currently holding it. There are two or three Cabinet members who could speak knowledgeably. If you can’t get anyone of Cabinet rank or above, bring whatever Army general heads the Corps of Engineers. Persons of lower rank won’t cut it.   (End of Suggestion # 1)

2) Help us do the best with what we have left. That’s what you   were trying to do when you explained to Mayor Booker about the “delta” (or “fen” as Vincent Foley proposes in his letter in the   0ctober 2 Courier. However, I agree with Jim Dill in his September 25 letter when he says weeds are what will grow there. Developing real bio-diversity takes a long time. It could be a lifetime before Osceola’s “delta” would be comparable to the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area, which is already well established.

Be both smart and gentle in dealings with the City of Osceola. For example, we’ve been stuck with “park” land so abundant we’ll never have the resources to maintain it. Maybe some administrators could tithe a day a month to come work on beautification, for example, mowing.

In spite of the loss of Osceola Dam, a fishing mecca, people still come here to fish. Use tax money to bankroll maintenance of Osceola Cove so both the RV Park put-in and the munic1pal boat ramp will remain usable. Do ongoing dredging to allow boats to get out into the channels of what in better times were the Osage River and its tributaries. The “delta” area will silt up but there will always be a channel.

Be responsible, be accountable, use common sense and kindness in dealing with institutions here which will, it seems, forever be under some measure of Corps supervision. Figure that local people may know more about what’s good for them than people in offices somewhere else, though local support for building the dam shows that we’re capable of error.

Bankroll a civic consultation with Amory Lovins’s Rocky Mountain Institute and a public school consult with down-to­-earth-teach’em-how-it-works David W. Orr, to decrease the likelihood that we locals will again be suckered by Corps experts. Make the non-fiction prose works of Wendell Berry required reading in the Corps, to decrease the temptation to sucker locals in the first place. (End of Suggestion #2)

You don’t have to wait for Suggestion #1 to be accomplished before putting Suggestion #2 into action, though “Cooperative Community Discussion and Planning Meetings” will be better received after the Corps has brought someone from Washington to say it’s sorry for doing violence here, taking away so many things that can never be restored. By the way, if you bring water remediation expert John Todd to instruct me, I’ll be first in line to get in, before or after the apology.

I trust I have provided background for understanding, food for thought and goals for action on the part of the Corps.


Lawrence B. (“Larry”) Lewis

Priest of the Episcopal Church, Diocese of West Missouri,
Osceola, Missouri, October 4, 1997 (St. Francis Day)

Monument to Osceola Dam on Osage River


Nov 052013

For our presentations this month for the Greenway Network at River Soundings and for the Big Muddy Speaker Series in St. Charles, we created this chronology of development on the Osage River.

A Chronology of Development on the Osage River and Tributaries

• 1813 – The Osages and Chouteaus reluctantly agreed to locate the trading post on the Missouri River instead of on the Osage, near their home, acknowledging that the Osage was too shallow for year round transportation.
• 1821 – Harmony Mission attempted a water mill on the Marais des Cygnes (then called the Osage River) but it washed out.
• 19th century – numerous pioneer mills on tributaries throughout the 1800s
• Circa 1840s – Caplinger Mills – successful grist mill on the Sac River. In 1917 this became the first hydroelectric project on the Osage system
• 1895 – Lock & Dam No. 1 construction started because of agitation for river improvement for steamboats. Designed by Hiram Chittenden, built by Army Corps of Engineers.
• 1906 Bates County Ditch, an ill-conceived channelization of the Marais des Cygnes
• Late 1920s – run-of-the-river hydroelectric dam at Osceola built by Ozark Utility Company
• 1931 Bagnell Dam closed. Financed by Union Electric of St. Louis, but started by Walter Cravens and Ralph Street of Kansas City.
• 1932 – Corps of Engineers delivers 308 Report on “Osage River, Mo. And Kans.”

Corps of Engineers Dams completed 1961-1982

• 1961 – POMME DE TERRE, on the Pomme de Terre River – multipurpose pool of 7,820 acres
• 1963 – POMONA, KANSAS, on Dragoon and One Hundred Ten Mile creeks – 4,060 acres
• 1969 – STOCKTON DAM, MISSOURI, on Sac River – 24,900 acres. Stockton is larger than the first two projects and is the only one, besides Truman, to have hydropower generation
• 1975 – MELVERN LAKE, KANSAS, on the Marais des Cygnes – 6,930 acres
• 1979 – TRUMAN DAM, WARSAW MISSOURI on the Osage River – 55,600 acre power pool
• 1982 – HILLSDALE, KANSAS, on Big Bull Creek – 4,580 acres

• ? – Removal of Lock & Dam No. 1. Originally unjustified and an environmental disaster today

More information is available in DAMMING THE OSAGE: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir. Retail $35, it is available from our website for $25 postage paid.
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Dec 122012

Real photo postcard by McKinney

A hundred years before the Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center was built at the overlook, locals came to picnic and gawk. With a distant view of the Pomme de Terre entering the Osage, and easy accessibility from Warsaw, it was a popular day trip for generations of locals.

We have drawn a blank trying to learn the origin of the name of this overlook. We can’t find a Kaysinger family in any record we’ve seen, or even another name that may sound the same but be spelled differently. The word sounds German and there are a number of German families in Benton and surrounding counties. If anyone knows who Kaysinger was, please leave a comment.

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Oct 302012

Trophy Paddlefish

This looks to be taken below the Osceola Dam which was removed when Truman Dam and Reservoir was built. While the primary paddlefish spawning beds were over gravel bars between Osceola and Warsaw, paddlefish on spawning runs would accumulate below this run-of-the-river dam, making them vulnerable to snaggers.

We’ve not run across an authoritative history of the sport of snagging. The two areas most associated with snagging in the 1950s were the Osage River above Lake of the Ozarks and below the big Corps dams on the upper Missouri River. If anybody knows of any articles on snagging before the 1950s or had personal experience – we’d love to hear about them.

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Aug 262012


This summer’s drought has drastically lowered water levels on major waterways throughout the Midwest. The Corps of Engineers first major water control project on the Osage – built around the turn of the last century to facilitate steamboat travel – Lock and Dam #1 was if anything an impediment to river commerce. This morning the crumbling hulk lay exposed to sun and camera…. A reminder that water resource projects have a finite usefulness and then become relics and dangerous ruins.

Feb 242011
Research, for this writer, is almost the best part of a book project. For in our case that often means – road trip!  Many trips to the Ozarks tracking Father Hogan’s horseback reconnaissance for a settlement for Famine immigrants were de rigueur for Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. Last fall, The Osage River book (now in the works) dictated a photo safari to Heritage Days at Truman Dam and Reservoir.

As with most American ‘pioneer/forefathers’ celebrations, Heritage Days in Warsaw, Missouri provides a venue for demonstrations of atavistic skills and arcane crafts with, of course, opportunities to purchase many handmade or locally crafted articles. Heritage Days is no exception. Lining the shady pathways one could find lye soap making, candles, sorghum, wood carving, dying and weaving, and candle making. From the stage of Trailside Theater the sound of old-time music emanated.

The wooded hilltop surrounding the government-moderne, concrete Visitors Center was populated with buckskin- or calico-clad frontiersmen and women; the cleared lawn overlooking the mammoth dam on the Osage hosted Civil War and mountain-man reenactors. They brought displays of long rifles and cannon, tanned hides and bows, powder horns and and Bowie knives.

Irony is an overused concept but it was not lost on me in the firing of a Civil War cannon over the fought-over Corps of Engineers project.  Colorful subject matter and near-perfect October weather called for many snapshots.

“Harry Truman” himself (Dr. Carter Kinkead of the Benton County Historical Society) strolled the grounds, chatting with visitors and giving out bits of history of the eponymous project. Originally named Kaysinger Bluff Dam and Reservoir after the high bluff over the Osage to which the dam is anchored, the name was changed in 1970 to honor Missouri’s own favorite son – and to reinforce its worthiness as a major infrastructure project.  There were questions (and a lawsuit) over its cost/benefit – both economically and environmentally. More – much more – on that in The Osage Riverbook.Congressionally authorized, and Corps of Engineers-built, Truman is an interesting contrast to the first major dam/lake project on the Osage River. Bagnell, a privately funded and operated dam/reservoir was slow to develop, but its shoreline is now crammed with marinas, condo developments and recurrent water-quality concerns.  Shenanigans in its 1920s funding landed one developer in Leavenworth Penitentiary (of course, his major problems had to do with Land Banks, foreclosed Kansas farmland and his effort to make Osage Valley farmland cover the shortfalls).

Truman (a.k.a. Kaysinger Bluff) on the other hand was slow to take off.  Authorized in 1954, construction didn’t begin until 1964. Funding was frequently slowed by the costs of the Vietnam War.  When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1968, the door was opened to challenge the project for the inadequacy of its environmental impact statement. NEPA went into effect in 1969; early in 1972 the lawsuit was filed. Interestingly enough …. there seems to be no mention of that lawsuit in official public accounts of the project’s history.

But I digress.You’ll just have to read the book!
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