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Unchannelized Missouri River upstream of Ponca, NE.

Prior to 1900, the Missouri River channel was uncontrolled.  It was free to meander back and forth across the river valley with the associated erosion, avulsion, deposition, and accretion.  The river continually eroded the banks and deposited the eroded material in new locations to form bars, shoals, and new banks downstream.

At all times, the channel occupied roughly 300,000 acres and consisted of numerous islands, channels, chutes, sandbars, and slack water supporting vegetation in various stages of succession.  This vegetation reflected the natural processes of erosion and deposition and consisted primarily of willow and cottonwood.

Graphic of the river floodplain and meander belt
Willow mat revetment construction, circa 1920.

Efforts to stabilize the Missouri River and provide a navigation channel started in the early 1900’s.  Since 1912, seven separate acts of Congress provided for the construction and maintenance of a navigation channel and bank stabilization works.  The collection of projects, constructed and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is known as the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project, (BSNP).

   The BSNP projects included placing revetments on the riverbanks, closing off sloughs and side channels and constructing pile dikes.  Later work included dredging and rock dike construction.  Construction and long-term operation and maintenance of the BSNP created an inland navigation system and provided many benefits such as protecting utilities, transportation networks, bridges, and adjacent landowners and farms.

Bank Stabilization Graphic

Pile Dike with resulting accretion, circa 1920.
Pile Dike, circa 1920.

However, the highly controlled, narrow channel has significantly reduced the amount of fish and wildlife habitat that used to be supported from the natural channel and meander belt.  Consequently, the fish and wildlife populations have seen a significant reduction along with the loss of recreational opportunities that they used to provide.

In the early 1980’s, the Kansas City District of the US Army Corps of Engineers completed a study of the feasibility of the Missouri River Mitigation Project.  This study was conducted under the authorization of the 1958 Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (Public Law 85-624).  The study determined that it was economically feasible to mitigate fish and wildlife resources lost to the construction of the BSNP project and enhancing fish and wildlife resources.  In 1986, Congress authorized construction  of the Mitigation project.

Navigation along the Missouri River.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Northwestern Division
Kansas City District
601 E 12th Street
Kansas City, Mo 64106
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Page last updated: July 21, 2004
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