Day 2: River Engineering, Shipping, and a Reimagined Town

St. Louis:

Keeping the River Where We Want It: Shipping, Flood Control and the Army Corps

Just south of downtown St. Louis sits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Applied River Engineering Lab, where research is conducted that helps the Corps, as they call it, “train” the river. River training has been the Corps’ responsibility since 1824, when federal legislation mandated that the Corps improve the Mississippi and Ohio rivers both for the interests of navigation and shipping and for the benefit of communities in nearby flood-prone areas. We toured the lab to get a glimpse of what river engineering looks like nearly 200 years later and talked about the current Corps philosophy in meeting their mandate.

How the Mississippi Connects America’s Breadbasket to Global Ports

The Mississippi River is the critical link between U.S.-grown corn and soybeans and international ports. In a country where production costs far exceed those of global competitors, the ease and affordability of getting products to market keeps Midwest farmers in the game. It’s been a hard year for producers, however, thanks to a trade war with China and flood-stage water levels on the river, which slow river traffic and force shippers to reduce barge sizes. We toured the Cargill grain elevator in East St. Louis and learned how grain gets to market, what keeps the shipping industry competitive and why ports like St. Louis are vital to American agriculture.

Cairo, IL
Life at the Confluence: Cairo Embraces the Promise and Perils of the Mississippi River

On May 2nd, 2011, Tyrone Coleman was sworn in as mayor of Cairo as the Mississippi strained town levees and nearly overtopped flood walls. That same night, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detonated an upstream levee, sending flood waters into Missouri farmland and saving Cairo from an epic flood. We’ll learn about the policies that led to the levee breach as well as the debate that slowed Army Corps action as we tour new infrastructure installed after 2011 that makes Cairo, as Mayor Coleman says, “a community that survives by way of pump stations, walls and levees.”

Last fall, $1 million was carved out of the Illinois state budget to plan and design a port in Cairo. While it may seem surprising that such a facility doesn’t already exist in a town that sits right at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Cairo has a history of corrupt governance, racially driven policies and extreme poverty that have prevented it from capitalizing on its greatest asset. Now this struggling town hopes a new port can reverse its fortunes – or at least stop the slide.