High Water on the Ouachita River at Sicily Island Hills

Posted: November 9, 2009 in Homepage

Adjacent to the western edge of the Sicily Island Hills is the Ouachita River. For those not from this part of the country you can be forgiven for not imagining how to pronounce the unique name of this river. It is pronounced as if it were spelled Washitaw.

The Ouachita River begins near Rich Mountain in west central Arkansas and flows through the Ouachita Mountains to Hot Springs and then turns in a southeasterly direction towards Camden, Arkansas after which it continues on past Felsenthal and the river enters Louisiana. Currently, with all the prolonged rains that have fallen in Arkansas and Louisiana the river is at or near flood stage along most of its lower course at an unusual time of year. Normally, the river would be elevated in late spring or early summer, not in the fall. Flood stage, to someone perhaps not familiar with rivers, is the elevation at which a stream would pour over its natural stream banks. At flood stage, levees or other man made structures contain the river so flooding does not occur, that is if these structures do not fail or more water enters the basin than the structural design limits.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website “Ouachita  River Basin Water Control Report”, the  river stage for November 9, 2009 at the Columbia Lock and Dam (upper) is 69.2,  a change of .1 and the record level is 76.2 in 1991. The river stage for the same date at the Jonesville Lock and Dam (upper) is 47.9 a change of .2 and the record level 59.7 in 1973. Each of these years are memorable for floods, especially flooding of the Mississippi River in 1973.

Floodstage at the Sicily Island Hills is hardly a problem due to the topography. The backswamp areas  northwest, west, southwest and south of the Sicily Island Hills do have concerns with floodstage. A backswamp is a natural area adjacent to a river beyond the natural levees that receives periodic overflow.

The Ouachita River at Sicily Island Hills is quite lovely especially at this time of year. However, the river is currently too high to boat safely and some areas are closed to commercial traffic, and wake enforcement is also underway.  During safer times of visitation there, travelers can observe the natural beauty of the area including wildlife. The many types of herons are of particular interest.

Outcrop on River2

A boat trip along the river from Columbia to Jonesville will provide the traveler with views of steep hills in many places with lush vegetation, and at Sicily Island Hills there is the bonus of exposed rock formations. In many parts of the country people take for granted their circumstances and surroundings. Louisiana has been at the terminus of all the silt laden drainage of  the Mississippi River and its hundreds of tributaries for thousands of years and so between erosion and deposition, the rocks of Louisiana are for the most part buried under layers of soil. So for us, it is rather refreshing to actually see rocks in our environment.

On my next trip to Sicily Island Hills, I will make several photographs of the river at SIH.

Perhaps someday when tourism is flourishing in this area, visitors might be offered outings by boat from Harrisonburg, to enjoy this tranquil stretch of the Ouachita.


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