Environment Photography

More on Taum Sauk, Johnson, and Black River

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Thanks to Lee Farber, who runs the Peola Valley Pottery in Lesterville (the town threatened with flooding after the Tauk Sauk Reservoir wall failed), I have links to additional resources on the flood and its impact.

political cartoon noting that AmerenUE operates more than reservoirs.

I hope to get permission to actually take photos of the Shut-Ins themselves. In the meantime, before and after photos of the area.

The issue was raised that what has fallen into the Black River is just dirt, and dirt can actually help a surrounding area. The concept of rich alluvial land in the floodplains of a river like the Mississippi is based on naturally occurring flooding. The reservoir break was anything but natural.

The Black River, one of the most pristine in the state and country, and environmentally vulnerable, was actually diverted the length of two football fields at one point by the force of the water from the dam breaking. We don’t yet know the impact of the dirt in the water, either on tourism (necessary for the area); or on wildlife dependent on the river.

People Photography Places

After the Flood

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’m working on a very long essay on the recent dam break here in Missouri, the hurricane effects in New Orleans and other topics, and am out taking photos as annotation. The writing may be a long time in coming, but I thought I would post photos as I go along.

Monday I went to the Johnson Shut-Ins to see the effect of the Taum Sauk Reservoir dam break. It was…extraordinary. The trees and much of the scrub in the area where the campground and picnic areas are almost all gone, or damaged beyond salvaging.

There were several of us about, most local to the area. We were gathered in a group trying to figure out where the water came from, when one man mentioned that the water came from a direction in back and to our left. How can this be, I asked, because the trees were lying down towards the left. According to another man local to the area, the water had come down with such force that it hit the mountain to the right and bounced back. It was this bounced water that took out the ranger’s home, pushed the semi off the road, and knocked down the trees by the road.

The campground and shut-ins got the water directly. So much so that rebar from the dam was twisted in and around the granite pillars of the shut-ins. In the summer, during the day, all 57 campground spaces are filled, as well as the space for 110 day use cars, with vehicles lined up to get in for miles. During a peak time in the summer, an estimated 1000 or so people could have been in the impact zone of the flood–a probable 250 in the direct path of the water.

I’ve also added some Google map images to the photos, to demonstrate the water flow and where items I photographed were found.

As the following Google maps snapshot demonstrates, the water flowed down between mountains, and came out pointed directly at Johnson Shut-Ins. It flowed down Black river, in both directions at first, and bounced back from the mountain bordering the Shut-Ins across from the water path.

Keep Out

Path of Water down Mountain

Black River

Unusual color in Black River


It hit the mountain, bouncing back and taking the Ranger’s home. The following photo encompasses both the path of the flood and the home. The light colored foundation in the right side of the following photo is what’s left of the home.

Flood Path in Relation to Park Ranger Home


Knocking three cars and a semi carrying zinc into an empty field across from Highway N.

Location of Truck pushed off road

Debris, both from the dam (rebar and plastic liner) as well as from the ranger’s home was still scattered about in and among uprooted trees and the inches of mud and silt over everything. The following map shows a circle where the Ranger’s house was, and Xs marking where debris in the photos was located.


The front wheel from a child's bike

Lining from Reservoir was littered everywhere

Sign by Park Ranger's House

A Baby's Socks

Environment Events of note

Unnatural Acts

Reporters checked with the Missouri state park system and found out, yes, the flood yesterday did a massive amount of damage to the Johnson Shut-Ins, most likely part of the Ozark Trail, and surrounding area. The trees and landscape in the following photo are most like gone now.


It also sounds as if the park superintendent and his family who were hurt by the flood will recover, though the children are still in serious condition. All of us are thinking about what would have happened if this had been a peak weekend in the summer when the area gets anywhere from a thousand to two thousand people, on the trails and river, or in the campground.

Several people in the comment thread to the Topic of the Day discussion at St. Louis Today (the online site for the local newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), mentioned about how this was a ‘miracle’ that no one was hurt. Thank God, they would say, that this wasn’t in the summer when more would have surely been killed; thank God that the family was found while they were still alive.

I wrote last night in the thread that this wasn’t a miracle; do they see God as this capricious being that destroys the dam just so he can swoop the family to safety, after first almost drowning them?

As sad coincidence would have it, I’m currently re-reading, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America by Ted Steinberg. He writes in the introductory chapter:

Once, the idea of invoking God in response to calamity was a strategy for eliciting moral responsibility. In the twentieth century, however, calling out God’s name amounted to an abdication of moral reason. With the religiously inclined less disposed than ever to take acts of God seriously, the opportunity has arisen over the last century for some public officials to employ God-fearing language as a way–thinly veiled though it might be–of denying their own culpability for calamity. In this sense, the act of God concept has become little more than a convenient evasion.

A person who wrote that they were an employee of Ameren, wrote in comments to the Topic of the Day thread:


Yes, a miracle.

(Photos from St. Louis Today)