Washington People: Bob Criss

Bob Criss wants you to get your feet wet.

Criss has championed the Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec rivers, among others, in more than 25 years of work in earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

‘We’re way too isolated from our rivers, and that’s a heck of a mistake for this region.’

Bob Criss

His research focused national attention on local problems such as flooding and floodplain development. At times, he was considered a vocal critic of the Army Corps of Engineers. Above all, Criss took on some of the toughest issues relating to floods caused by man: channelization; flood risklevee construction. He navigated them head-on, in the St. Louis region and beyond.

And Criss thinks that St. Louisans have been missing out.

“We’re way too isolated from our rivers, and that’s a heck of a mistake for this region,” Criss said. “This place is the best place in the world to look at and study rivers. We have more rivers — and a bigger disparity of size, management and natural qualities — than anywhere in the world.”

“These are marvelous parts of our natural resources, and we should embrace that,” he said.

With paddling power supplied by Big Muddy Adventures, Criss recently took an 8-mile, morning-long trip from the Columbia Bottom conservation area around Confluence Point.

“Rivers are still relevant, but we should change our thinking about our relationship to them, the economic possibilities,” Criss said. “We’re still thinking about what we did in relationship to the past — thinking that we’re still in a steamboat age, where river traffic is the only thing that matters. These are bad ideas. There is greater benefit to revising our thinking.”

Mississippi River map
Starting along the Missouri River at the Columbia Bottom conservation area, Criss journeyed around Confluence Point and down a natural section of the Mississippi River that is separate from the engineered/navigational stretch. (Image: Google Maps)


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