LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – Most boaters, like Kirk Donskey, recognized the low river levels this season, especially when it came to more sandbars and less access to swampy areas. But the low water levels did not stop those who wanted to hit the waterways.
Dry summer conditions made plenty of river days possible. But it also created drought conditions across much of the Midwest and the continent. Despite the lack of rain, our river was never impassable due to the lock and dam system.
“These structures are used primarily today for commercial but also private individual recreation, “says Dan Fasching, hydraulic engineer with the US Army Corps in St. Paul. “All that (river use) would be very, very difficult if it were the river may be 2 or 3 feet deep and that might especially have been the case last year – and that’s what the dams are for, they’re for the low-current years. “
Locks and dams exist from St. Paul to St. Louis at a depth of 120 meters. The locks and dams can control the amount of water is exchanged to enable further navigation. This was important when locks and dams were first implemented as the Mississippi acted as a freeway.
An important fact to keep in mind with these lock and dam systems is that they DO NOT help in the event of flooding. They help keep the water high enough for navigation in drought conditions. However, during the high season, the gates can open to create a more natural river flow.