Whenever she takes people out on her boat, Vicki Richmond from the Healthy Rivers Partnership likes to ask if they know where their drinking water comes from.
“You’d be amazed how many people don’t know it’s the Missouri River,” says Richmond as members of the media clamber aboard. For Drinking Water Week, the Kansas City Water Department arranged to have Richmond show us the Missouri River.
(This reporter would like to state, for the record, she knew before today where our drinking water came from.)
Now that we’ve established that Kansas City gets its drinking water from the Missouri River, here’s five things you may not know.
1) Don’t panic if an Asian carp jumps into the boat. Larry O’Donnell with the Healthy River Partnership points to a dead white fish on the riverbank. “They’re invasive,” he explains. “They were brought over to the northern Arkansas rice fields to help clean ’em. They escaped in the ’93 flood. Their defense mechanism is to jump. They hear the sound of the motor, and they jump.” Asian carp are highly invasive because they have no natural predators.
2) If you’ve ever visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum in the River Market, you know boats sank all the time in the "Mighty Missouri." “We say they sank, but usually they’d go down in four or five feet of water,” says O’Donnell. “It’s not like the Lusitania. Generally, most people could get off and walk to shore, but the boat was trashed. They figured if the boat could make it up and back once it paid for itself.” More than 200 steamships were lost in the late 1800s.
3) The French were in what’s today Kansas City 100 years before Lewis and Clark. In fact, they were already farming the West Bottoms when the explorers arrived. Back then, the river was 2 miles wide. It took 30 years to dredge the channel using giant wooden jacks with willow masts between them. “What happens is the water flows over the top when it gets high, slows it down, all the silt settles out,” O’Donnell says. “We created about 300,000 acres of land by doing that. At the same time, we cut off all kinds of habitat.”
4) Berkley Riverfront Park was built atop the old municipal landfill and tow lot. “It’s a pretty good use of the land,” says Richmond. “It’s not appropriate as a building site. It’s really good as a park site.” Of note? Rubble from the old Wayne Miner housing project and the Hyatt skywalks are buried here.
5) Bridges over the Missouri have to be a certain height to allow river traffic to pass below. The middle section of the BNSF Railway bridge that runs parallel to Buck O’Neil Bridge swings out to accommodate barges. The Army Corps of Engineers posts a daily schedule to its Facebook page so you can coordinate your next visit to Berkley Riverfront Park with the movement of the bridges.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.