Mississippi River BasinExpedition

Red River Basin Expedition in the Mississippi River Basin, Oct. 2012
(including the Texas Panhandle reach of the Canadian River)

Team Members: NWNL Director/Photographer Alison M. Jones;
Author Cheryl Green

“Three little words, achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life today in the dust bowl of the continent – “if it rains.” –- AP Writer Robert Geiger, April 15, 1935. This was the first application of the term “dust bowl.”

Map of the Red River Watershed. Click for larger view.

Fork of the Red River, Palo Duro Canyon SP

Farm near Tulia, TX

These wire containers took loose cotton bolls to gins in 1995. Today bolls are compressed into modules in the field.

Bales of cotton being processed

THE RED RIVER BASIN: The Red River is the 2nd largest drainage in the southern Great Plains (65,590 sq. mi./169,900 sq. km.) and is 1,360 miles (2,190 km.) long. It rises at the edge of the Llano Estacado mesa in two branches of the Texas Panhandle’s Prairie Dog Town Fork River (elev. 3,471 ft./1,058 m.); continues east as the Texas/Oklahoma and Texas/Arkansas borders; and then flows into Louisiana. Most of this arid, upper watershed is flat, fertile agriculture land where “rain arrives by thimblefuls.” The 1943 Denison Dam and its Lake Texoma Reservoir, and other Texan tributary dams, provide flood control and recreational activities. The Texas water plan, finalized January 2012, contains a $53 billion wish list of projects to meet growing water needs and keep businesses in the state. Downstream in Louisiana, US Army Corps of Engineers built a lock-dam system in 1994 restoring the river to navigation from Shreveport LA to its mouth in Alexandria LA (elev. 30 ft., 9m.). Here the Red River flows at 57,000 cu. ft./sec. (1,600 cu. m./s.) into the Mississippi River System via the 7-mile (11 km.) Old River Control Structure. Until geomorphological changes of the 15th century, the Red River flowed parallel to the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the upper Red River is a tributary to the Mississippi River and the lower Red is called the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi.

RED RIVER EXPEDITION METHODOLOGY: Prior research by NWNL will guide the expedition’s still and video documentation, which will enhance that which NWNL has already gathered on the greater Mississippi River Basin. This NWNL expedition will investigate the effects of increasingly extreme climate changes within the Red River Basin. Due to the recent two-year drought, local livestock ranches and cotton farms face uncertain futures. Flora and fauna struggle to adapt to more arid habitats. Aquifers and rivers are at stressed levels. NWNL will interview stakeholders and stewards studying alternative livelihoods and employing sustainable management approaches to conserving water and soil resources. Upon completion, expedition materials will be publicized via Internet and print media, lectures and exhibits. Results will be shared with other NWNL watersheds as a reference for global solutions and used as educational tools.

EXPEDITION GOALS: NWNL will document the following historic, current and future issues:

• The 1930s Dustbowl; and water-use changes since then that address current and future droughts

• Alternative and sustainable adaptations to livestock ranching and cotton farming, including: drought-tolerant crops, “dry farming,” and more efficient irrigation techniques

• Local and national support for wind farms as alternative revenue in this region of constant winds

• Effects on stakeholders of aquifer levels lowered by irrigation; use of black-water recycling as a solution

• US Army Corps’ Chloride Control Program; and the pros and cons of desalination

Global Info

EXPEDITION ENDORSEMENTS: NWNL thanks those advising NWNL on this expedition and the generous supporters who donated funds and in-kind contributors. Thanks also to Wings WorldQuest, the fiscal sponsor for No Water No Life since 2007.