Getting the river flowing again
Elizabeth Wakeman has been watching the Big Sioux River for decades, concerned about its future for many reasons. But in recent years, she’s noticed one thing that’s changed in particular — the flow.
“The most concerning part is the oxbow,” Wakeman said, as we stood alongside her on the riverbank opposite of where sediment has largely blocked the natural flow of the treasured waterway through a horseshoe shaped offshoot.
“We need to get the Big Sioux flowing again,” said Wakeman, the Natural Resources Office’s Brownfield Coordinator.
Wakeman, along with tribal officials, city officials and representatives from Army Corps of Engineers met recently to discuss what comes next after a grant that she applied for to study the problem was approved. The funds will be used for a study on what’s happening at Hazel’s Haven, what is causing the oxbow, how to possibly restore the river in the area to its natural state, the quality of the water in the area, and the impact on any wildlife in the area if the oxbow is left as is or if restoration work is done.
Wakeman is passionate about the project. She has been coming to the area since she was a child herself, often fishing at Hazel’s Haven with family and friends. She remembers clearly what it used to be, and she’d like the waterway and the tribal lands that surround it protected, restored and preserved for generations to come.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re collecting this data is to see how degraded the oxbow is, what kind of wildlife utilization is there, how healthy it is…if it’s degraded to the point nothing is there, then it’s kind of a moot point. But we’re just spitballing right now because we don’t know,” said Dave Crane, a USACE Environmental Resource Specialist.
Environmental biologists and scientists, like Crane, plan to begin their research in and around Hazel’s Haven early next spring. A wetlands survey, a historic context of the oxbow area, and a LIDAR contract are the agreed upon next steps.
“There are all kinds of studies that have to be done before we can even dredge it — on the fish, the wildlife around the river, because we don’t want to work to fix one problem and then cause a problem with something else,” Wakeman said.
Sarah Miller, the USACE project manager, said that her team is excited to be a partner on the Section 22 Study. Her team will be among those gathering data “to assist the tribe with studying potential effects from the recent formation of the oxbow after the 2019 flood. There were several opportunities identified during the meeting with the Tribal Council on what could potentially develop as a result of this initial data gathering study.”
More on the project, along with other conversations about Big Sioux restoration work, in the coming months. For more on the project at Hazel’s Haven, you are encouraged to contact Wakeman at [email protected].