ROCKAWAY BEACH — Officials say years of silt buildup in Rockaway Beach has caused water levels to shallow, facilitating the growth of destructive aquatic plants that at times produce noxious odors, a hazard to boat propellers and murky water, which could disrupt navigation by reducing visibility — and the silt problem is worsening each year.
“It’s having a tremendous impact,” said Bill Kitchin, owner of White River Grille in Rockaway Beach. “Not only is the economy bad, but it’s having an economic impact beyond.”
According to Rockaway Beach Mayor Larry Cline, a lot of the silt came in with the 2008 and 2011 floods, and from upriver construction like the Branson Landing and added lanes onto U.S. 65, which drained from creeks into Lake Taneycomo.
And with minimal current flow through the channel between Table Rock and Powersite Dam, the silt has settled.
“It’s all upriver,” Cline said. “They don’t run a lot of water in on this side, so there’s not much current on this side to move it out.”
Shallow waters produced by silt buildup have created ideal growth conditions for a seaweed-like plant called Ceratophyllum Demersum, or coon tail, which officials say wraps around boat propellers and restricts navigation, making the area less desirable for tourists.
“You can’t pull a boat in without weeds getting wrapped up in the propellers. I mean, there’s a lot of contamination under that water,” Cline said, who has watched the water levels decrease by as much as four feet since 2005. “If they don’t get it fixed, nobody is going to be able to get boats in anywhere. They let it fill up, it’s just costing more and more in the long run to dredge it.”
There’s prospective health and environmental concerns with that much plant-matter living on the shorelines, Kitchin and Cline said, caused by whatever is dying inside of it.
The clearest indication being the smell — it’s running tourists off, officials say — and creating a compounding economic problem for the resort town. According to the city’s analysis, the occupancy rate for roughly 55,000 square feet of commercial space in Rockaway Beach has decreased by almost 67 percent since the 1950s.
“It’s not only boaters having trouble, but resorts, too,” Kitchinf said. “Coon tail, it’s just such a bad stench, people leave. When the lake is at a lower level, and that coon tail is exposed, and that silt is exposed, it’s a bad, bad smell.”
According to a report conducted by the city, which rests along Lake Taneycomo — an acronym for Taney County Missouri — boats at Rockaway Beach can only safely moor, roughly, 78 days of the 180-day tourism season, or from April 15-Sept. 30.
“People can’t access the lake because of the buildup. What’s a shame is nobody wants to take responsibility for the effects this is having,” Kitchin said. “A major contributor is Table Rock Dam: the silt that comes off Table Rock Dam goes into Taneycomo.”
Thinking long-term, a portion of energy revenues generated by the dam could be allocated toward maintaining Taneycomo, Kitchin said.
But more immediate and pressing demands — such as dredging the channel and removing the silt, and the installation of a wing dam to deter further silt from flowing in — would help what officials see as a looming (and expensive) crisis.
“They need to fix the system by putting in a wing dam — they use them in the Missouri River and the Mississippi river to keep the silt from falling in,” Cline said. “Because if you don’t have a current to push the silt through, it’s going to go to the path of least resistance.”
Cline said the costs of dredging the channel — a project consisting of vacuuming the silt onto barges, loading it onto trucks, then laying it to dry in nearby fields for possible reuse — would pay for itself in a few years with added revenue stream to the area, from an influx of tourists.
“If they get this out, Rockaway Beach will grow,” Cline said. “If something isn’t done about it, 10, 15, 20 years from now, who knows, it’s going to be catastrophic, it’s just going to be if people don’t open their eyes now to what is happening, and do something about it now.”