Extreme Makeover: The Effect of Time and People, Part 3
As the timber was cleared, steam-powered track hoes moved in and dug out the Bootheel’s network of drainage ditches. Otto Kotchtintzky was the mastermind behind this massive undertaking. Before 1903 small drainage districts had been unsuccessful because they did not work at the proper scale. Otto’s scheme was to tie in all of the major basins and backswamps together so that the water in the Bootheel would head to Arkansas as quickly as possible. This meant that the lowest and wettest areas were selected for the placement of the ditches.
Once these “main arteries” were established, they continued to be maintained and enhanced over the years. Additionally, individuals, counties and other municipalities have tied into this large system with smaller ditches to account for at least 6,000 miles of ditches across Southeast Missouri. Ditches and spoil piles not only change the amount of sheet water present at a specific location, but they also affect the water table in the surrounding area. The horizontal and vertical dehydrating of the wettest areas is how Kotchtintzky and others helped reclaim Swampeast Missouri. The maintenance and modification of this network continues today.