Headwater Diversion


The Headwater Diversion Basin is the intercepted and diverted headwater drainage of the much larger Little River Basin. The four primary streams in the 1,207-square mile Headwater Diversion Basin are Castor River (6th order, 69 miles), Whitewater River (6th order, 56 miles) and Crooked Creek (5th order, 49 miles) which are now tributaries to the man-made Headwater Diversion Channel (7th order, 34 miles) that drains into the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The basin is primarily Ozarkian in nature with a steep descent into the Mississippi Lowlands and is characterized by a high incidence of permanent streams, diverse channel gradients and land use which is 55% woodland, 22% grassland and 19% cropland. Only 30,100 people live in the basin which is free of heavy industrial developments and major urban centers.

Stream ecology throughout most of the basin is particularly healthy and no obvious chronic threats to stream resources are apparent. This plan describes the current status and addresses opportunities for preserving or improving four major resource elements within the basin.


The basin receives moderate fishing pressure and very limited amounts of other recreational activities. In 1977, an estimated 58,000 fishing trips ranked the basin in the 42nd percentile (15th out of 36) when fishing pressures in 36 Missouri basins were compared. Telephone survey estimates of 1987 and 1988 fishing trips averaged 33,000 trips per year. Telephone survey data indicate that fishing pressure within the basin is concentrated on the Diversion Channel, which receives 3 times as many trips and 7 times more angling hours per acre than Castor River.

Public access to 190 miles of floatable mainstem streams and 130 miles of wadable tributaries is generally good; but, some locations in the basin need more access. Currently, 15 public access areas, with over 10 miles of frontage and 5 boat ramps, are available for public use. Eight additional boat ramp sites and 8 larger frontage tracts are proposed for the basin in approved Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) acquisition plans.

Recreational opportunities can best be enhanced by developing additional access facilities on the Diversion Channel to relieve current crowded conditions. Other sites should be developed upstream to encourage the dispersal of public use throughout more of the basin. Then, information directed at increasing public awareness of specific recreational opportunities, particularly those in the upper watersheds, should help encourage a more widespread and diversified public interest in the basin.


An abundant water supply provided by adequate precipitation, good infiltration, high subsurface storage and minimal runoff assures clean, sustained and stable base flows which help maintain high water quality. Point source pollution is no longer considered a serious threat anywhere in the basin and nonpoint source pollution problems are generally moderate and local in nature.

Nutrient loading from livestock waste, non-permitted gravel mining, sawdust leachate and occasional raw sewage bypasses sometimes constitute minor threats to basin streams. These effluent problems can best be addressed by simply maintaining the current good water quality conditions at state standards and increasing public, industrial and political awareness of the conditions, causes and solutions to local runoff problems.


The quality and diversity of habitats throughout the basin are exceptional. The in stream habitat component is providing good elements of abundant cover, clean substrates and high base flows, which assures a stable water supply with adequate depths and flow during droughts. Most channels are well shaded and the basin is relatively free of problems related to turbidity, siltation and algal blooms. Channel alterations are usually associated with small gravel mining operations and occasional attempts by landowners to cutoff stream meanders. Movement of excessive gravel bedloads in the disturbed uplands, however, can disrupt channel hydraulics and smother good habitats.

Only 6% of the streambanks are severely or moderately eroding. The quality of the corridor vegetation is typically good with 75% of the existing corridors in dense timber. Corridor widths, however, are variable and agricultural encroachment into narrow corridors causes some streambank erosion problems.

Soils in the basin are highly erosive when disturbed. The potential for sheet, rill and gully erosion is the highest in the state; but, few fine sediments actually reach stream channels because of modest cropland acreage and fairly good farming practices. Coarse sediments, however, are eroding from the wooded uplands and clogging some downstream reaches because of poor timber harvest and woodland grazing practices.

Habitat problems are usually minor, scattered and most often associated with shifting gravel bedloads and streambank instability caused by a poor land-use practice. To maintain good habitats and make any needed habitat improvements, we will need to applaud and promote good forest and riparian stewardship by landowners through awareness, assistance and incentive programs. Unique habitats, including those occupied by threatened and wetland species, must be protected from degradation through the acquisition of lands and easements or special Landowner Cooperative Project (LCP) efforts.


An assemblage of 113 fish species and 123 taxa of benthic macroinvertebrates, including 37 naiad species and 9 crayfish species have been identified. Threatened species include 10 rare, extirpated or watch list fishes and 5 rare or endangered naiads. A 36% increase in the total number of fish species since 1941 and the current abundant and widespread distribution of 29 intolerant fish species are indicators of good water quality and habitat conditions in the basin.

Similar patterns of size structure are generally shared by sport species throughout the basin. Recruitment of all sportfishes to stock-size is good and problems related to annual production or early mortalities are not apparent. Some species are recruiting to quality-, preferred- and memorable-sizes. Nearly one half of the channel and flathead catfish populations are quality- and preferred-sized fish. Common carp and freshwater drum are producing some memorable-sizes. Low recruitment of spotted bass to quality-size from proportionally high stock-size densities is a concern. Another concern is the low recruitment of preferred-size shadow bass from relatively high quality-size densities.

Species richness will be monitored and maintained at or above current basin levels by ensuring that stream and corridor habitats remain healthy and diverse through the promotion, acquisition and creation (wetlands) of needed habitat components. Size and density parameters associated with catfishes, crappies, shadow bass and spotted bass populations can be addressed through special fishing regulations if a creel survey suggests that angler harvest is significantly responsible for the parameters.


DENNIS E. NORMAN, Fisheries District Supervisor, Missouri Department of Conservation, Cape Girardeau, May 1994

For further information contact:

Fisheries Regional Supervisor

Southeast Regional Headquarters

2302 County Park Dr.

Cape Girardeau, MO 63701


Location information for the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Geology and Geomorphology

Geology and geomorphology of the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Land Use

Land use for the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Hydrology of the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Water Quality

Water quality of the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Habitat Conditions

Habitat conditions in the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Biotic Community

Biotic community of the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Management Problems and Opportunities

Management problems in the Headwater Diversion watershed

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Literature Cited

Literature cited on the Headwater Diversion watershed

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List of Tables

Data tables for the Headwater Diversion watershed

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List of Figures

List of maps and images for the Headwater Diversion watershed

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PDF Version

Get a printable version of the Headwater Diversion watershed inventory

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