HIGH WATER / low water
February 2013
Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
South Wharf Street, St. Louis City
St. Louis, MO
N38.609928 W090.189957

These two Cairns were photographed in an industrial area just south of the Gateway Arch. In recent years, floods and droughts have made St. Louisans more aware of the Mississippi River’s fluctuating levels. HIGH WATER, the taller Cairn is topped with an inverted blue-glass vase to resemble buoys marking the deeper water channels that are vital to the river transportation industry. The shorter Cairn, named low water, is capped with a clear-glass fish, to represent the wildlife nurtured in Missouri River reservoirs and wetlands and the river’s importance for recreation, tourism, and agriculture.

This photograph was taken February 10, 2013, when the Mississippi River was near its lowest level in St. Louis. The previous summer’s drought had severely diminished the amount of water in the Missouri River and its reservoirs. This meant that a much smaller than normal amount of water entered the Mississippi, north of the city. This caused the river’s unusually low-water level that revealed a ship that sank in the flood of 1993. The rusty remnant of that ship is visible behind the barges.

The barges were parked on the banks because south of St. Louis the water was so low that natural limestone formations in the riverbed could rip holes in the bottoms of tugboats and barges.

During the winter, contractors for the Army Corps of Engineers blasted and cleared rocks to permit normal barge traffic to resume. The barge traffic backup was beginning to unclog when this image was created in February.

The locations of the submerged rock columns are shown on this Army Corps of Engineers’ map.