The Missouri River has had a long history of anthropogenic modification with considerable impacts on river and riparian ecology, form, and function. During the 20th century, several large dam-building efforts in the basin served the needs for irrigation, flood control, navigation, and the generation of hydroelectric power. The managed flow provided a range of uses, including recreation, fisheries, and habitat. Fifteen dams impound the main stem of the river, with hundreds more on tributaries. Though the effects of dams and reservoirs are well-documented, their impacts have been studied individually, with relatively little attention paid to their interaction along a river corridor. We examine the morphological and sedimentological changes in the Upper Missouri River between the Garrison Dam in ND (operational in 1953) and Oahe Dam in SD (operational in 1959). Through historical aerial photography, stream gage data, and cross sectional surveys, we demonstrate that the influence of the upstream dam is still a major control of river dynamics when the backwater effects of the downstream reservoir begin. In the “Anthropocene”, dams are ubiquitous on large rivers and often occur in series, similar to the Garrison Dam Segment. We propose a conceptual model of how interacting dams might affect river geomorphology, resulting in distinct and recognizable morphologic sequences that we term “Inter-Dam sequence” characteristic of major rivers in the US.
Additional publication details
Large dams and alluvial rivers in the Anthropocene: The impacts of the Garrison and Oahe Dams on the Upper Missouri River