Everything living is dependent on necessities for survival: air, food and water being among the most vital.
For residents of Missouri, water not only sustains our lives but it is also the backdrop to the history and development of our state.
In a recently published book, ‘Voices of Missouri’s Rivers’ by William Turner, the history and state of our rivers is presented in a both vivid and compelling manner for readers asking them to not only consider the heritage our waterways have provided but presenting the case of the for conservation of a vital natural resource.
“I wrote the book to convey the importance of our state’s waterways but also to stress the need for further conservation of our rivers to future generations,” Turner said. “We have a good water quality and amount of water in our state compared to others but that could easily go away if we are not vigilant.”
Turner retired in 2010 after spending 32 years with the Missouri Department of Conservation as a river and stream biologist and said one of the other reasons for the work was to create a comprehensive guide of the state’s waterways.
“Throughout my career it seemed I was looking for a source of information on our rich river heritage,” Turner said. “We have some excellent sources and pieces of information but it was all rather piecemeal.
“With my job with the department I knew it was something that was needed and so I decided to take the project on,” Turner added.
Turner began writing the book in 1999.
“It was difficult to take such a huge complex subject and boil it down to less the 400 pages,” Turner said. “The job of amassing and keeping all of the information I gathered straight was a large part of the challenge in writing the book.”
Turner added that he sites over 600 resources in the work which he gathered from across the state including the State Historical Archives and libraries in each of Missouri’ s 114 counties as well as neighboring states.
“When Ulysses S. Grant was president he contracted out that histories of each county be written,” Turner said. “The people who wrote them were from the counties and so I could go to every county library and find that information,” Turner said. “I had to do make sure that that single source was unbiased and so finding the second source to confirm the information was the gem.”
Turner said he spent 70 percent of his time do research, finding and cataloguing material and working with editors with the reaming 30 percent on the writing of the book.
“The only way to get to the actual writing was to do the other stuff,” Turner commented. “It wasn’t hard to get up and go because there was always something new to discover.
“I think I was always thinking about the visuals and how to create an entertaining history that wasn’t just based on the Lewis and Clark concept,” Turner added. “The work also needed to be relevant for today; that was very important to the work as well.”
With reports of water shortages both, here in the United States and around the world Turner states that there must be a greater effort to protect all waterways, including those in Missouri.
“Man truly is the biggest threat to our rivers,” Turner said. “We have modified our waterways so much across the country that we are underestimating the effect it is creating.”
Turner pointed to the flooding in the St. Louis area as an example of the damage that can be created at the hand of man to the flood plains.
“We’ve caused a lot of damage and we have to keep in mind that all of the water has to go someplace,” Turner said. “But it’s not just that, the pollution is never ending, and it’s not just a corporate issue.
“Everything we put down our drains we take for granted,” Turner added. “That includes things like shampoos and detergents to cleaning products simply can’t all be treated by waste water and it’s the responsibility of all of us to insist that our water be protected.”
Turner stresses that the change needs to legislation in the state needs to come from citizens.
“The pressure to bring about change and do the right thing needs to come from the people,” Turner said. “All of us need to demand that our legislators need to do something to protect our waterways and quality of life.”
The quality of life and enjoyment that residents garner from the states rivers and creeks is something Turner does not take for granted and hopes to pass on to future generations.
“I don’t truly have a favorite waterway,” Turner said thoughtfully. “I can sit on my creek bank and be content; maybe the one I am fishing at the time is the one I like best.
“I think of all the time periods I researched it’s the Steamboat era that fascinates me the most,” Turner continued. “There is just something about how the steamboat captains were always on the cutting edge of shaping society and were at the heart of life for that period of time; we need to maintain that ideal of the waterways for future generations.”
‘Voices of Missouri’s Rivers’ is available at all Missouri Department of Conservation Offices at the department’s website mdc.mo.gov.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484