A poignant chronicle of an emblematic American river, mistreated and abused over the generations but never worse than today.
The Missouri River drains the largest expanse of land of any river in the United States, embracing 5,761 miles across eight states—a full sixth of the nation. Yet, writes St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent Lambrecht (Dinner at the New Gene Café, 2001), the nation seems to have forgotten all about it. And not with benign neglect: The Missouri begins, tainted by E. coli, in a Montana valley whose principal industry has recently applied to “burn scrap tires—75 per hour, 1,800 per day, 657,000 per year.” Things are no better, Lambrecht records, at the river’s terminus near St. Louis, where the Lewis and Clark expedition had its start; its camp was recently reconstructed to honor the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery, located “just across the highway from a Superfund toxic waste pile leaching heavy metal.” So it is, Lambrecht dourly notes, that America’s great river road to the west has its beginning and ending in pollution, a situation not likely to improve during what he unhesitatingly depicts as an environment-destroying presidential administration headed by men who somehow turned Missouri from blue state to red over a mere four years—but four years marked by increasing controversy over how to maintain and restore the river, and by lawsuits protecting species that, it seems, many Missourians were glad to do without. Lambrecht offers a strong if somewhat depressing account of the losses sustained not only by the river but also by the environmentalists committed to protecting it, and he hints that darker times may be ahead as states within the drainage wage ever-harder battles for control of ever-larger shares of water, North Dakota being a case in point.
A lucid, welcome work of environmental investigation and—though Lambrecht, ever the journalist, protests otherwise—advocacy, worthy of a place alongside Philip Fradkin’s A River No More, Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert and other modern treatises on the destruction of America’s waters.