The Fight over Big Muddy's Flow

The Missouri River's shifty personality was a constant problem for Lewis and Clark, who struggled against its powerful current and crumbling riverbanks. To 19th century westward expansionists, the Missouri was something to be harnessed, its rambunctious energy put to work. It was. Seven dams erected between 1933 and 1966 now master the once-wild river as it follows its twisting, seven-state course from its headwaters near the Rockies to its confluence with the Mississippi, north of St. Louis.

The dams profoundly altered the character of the Missouri, evening out its pulse--the naturally occurring spring rises and summer drops--and capturing much of the...

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