Arkansas River

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Arkansas River
AR Arkansas River.jpg
The lower part of the Arkansas River near Little Rock, Arkansas
Country United States
States Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas
Region Great Plains
Part of Mississippi River watershed
 - left Fountain Creek, Pawnee River, Verdigris River, Neosho River
 - right Cimarron River, Salt Fork Arkansas River, Canadian River, Poteau River
Cities Pueblo, CO, Wichita, KS, Tulsa, OK, Muskogee, OK, Fort Smith, AR, Little Rock, AR, Pine Bluff, AR
Source Confluence of East Fork Arkansas River and Tennessee Creek
 - location Near Leadville, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
 - elevation 9,728 ft (2,965 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. [1]
Mouth Mississippi River
 - location Franklin Township, Desha County, near Napoleon, Arkansas
 - elevation 108 ft (33 m) [1]
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. [1]
Length 1,469 mi (2,364 km), West-east [2]
Basin 168,002 sq mi (435,123 km2) [3]
Discharge for Dardanelle, Arkansas, river mile 219.5 (river kilometer 353.3)
 - average 40,517 cu ft/s (1,147 m3/s) [4]
 - max 683,000 cu ft/s (19,340 m3/s)
 - min 1,207 cu ft/s (34 m3/s)
The Arkansas River flows through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and its watershed also drains parts of Texas, New Mexico and Missouri.

The Arkansas River (Pawnee: Kícka [5]) is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. The Arkansas generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the US states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's source basin lies in the western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas River Valley, where the headwaters derive from the snowpack in the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. Then it flows east into the Midwest via Kansas, and finally into the South through Oklahoma and Arkansas.

At 1,469 miles (2,364 km), it is the sixth-longest river in the United States,[6] the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi–Missouri system, and the 45th longest river in the world. Its origin is in the Rocky Mountains in Lake County, Colorado, near Leadville. In 1859, placer gold discovered in the Leadville area brought thousands seeking to strike it rich, but the easily recovered placer gold was quickly exhausted.[7] The Arkansas River's mouth is at Napoleon, Arkansas, and its drainage basin covers nearly 170,000 sq mi (440,300 km²).[3] In terms of volume, the river is much smaller than both the Missouri and Ohio Rivers, with a mean discharge of roughly 41,000 cubic feet per second (1,200 m3/s).

The Arkansas from its headwaters to the 100th meridian west formed part of the US-Mexico border from the Adams–Onís Treaty (in force 1821) until the Texas Annexation or Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.


Name pronunciation varies by region. Many people in western states, including Kansas and Colorado, pronounce it /ɑːrˈkænzəs/ ar-KAN-zəs,[8] while many other people in Oklahoma and Arkansas typically pronounce it /ˈɑːrkənsɔː/ AR-kən-saw according to a state law passed in 1881.[9]


The headwaters of the Arkansas near Leadville, Colorado

The Arkansas has three distinct sections in its long path through central North America. At its headwaters, the Arkansas runs as a steep mountain river through the Rockies in its narrow valley, dropping 4,600 feet (1.4 km) in 120 miles (193 km). This section (including The Numbers near Granite, Colorado, Brown's Canyon, and the Royal Gorge) supports extensive whitewater rafting in the spring and summer.

At Cañon City, Colorado, the Arkansas River valley widens and flattens markedly. Just west of Pueblo, Colorado, the river enters the Great Plains. Through the rest of Colorado, Kansas, and most of Oklahoma, it is a typical Great Plains riverway, with wide, shallow banks subject to seasonal flooding. Tributaries include the Canadian River and the Cimarron River and the Salt Fork Arkansas River.

Other important tributaries flowing into the river as it passes through Oklahoma are the Verdigris, Neosho (Grand), Illinois, and Poteau rivers.[10]

The river is navigable by barges and large river craft to Muskogee, Oklahoma because of a series of locks and dams that have been constructed since the early 20th century, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. Above Muskogee, the Arkansas River is navigable only by small craft such as rafts or canoes.

Through western Arkansas, the river valley passes through high, isolated, flat-topped mesas, buttes, or monadnocks, such as Mount Nebo, and Petit Jean Mountain, and Mount Magazine, the highest point in the state. The river valley widens and becomes more shallow just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. It continues eastward across the plains and forests of eastern Arkansas until it flows into the Mississippi River.

File:Dry Arkansas River.jpg
Drought can reduce the Arkansas River so much, trees along the river cannot survive.

Water flow in the Arkansas River (as measured in central Kansas) has dropped from approximately 248 cubic feet per second (7 m³/s) average from 1944-1963 to 53 cubic feet per second (1.5 m³/s) average from 1984–2003, largely because of the pumping of groundwater for irrigation in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.

Important cities along the Arkansas River include Pueblo, Colorado, Wichita, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas.

The I-40 bridge disaster of May 2002 took place on I-40's crossing of Kerr Reservoir on the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma.

Allocation problems

Since 1902, Kansas has claimed Colorado takes too much of the river's water, resulting in a number of lawsuits before the US Supreme Court that continue to this day,[11] generally under the name of Kansas v. Colorado. The problems over the possession and use of Arkansas River water by Colorado and Kansas led to the creation of an interstate compact or agreement between the two states.[11] While Congress approved the Arkansas River Compact in 1949,[11] the compact did not stop further disputes by the two states over water rights to the river.

The Kansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Basin Compact was created in 1965 to promote mutual consideration and equity over water use in the basin shared by those states. It led to the Kansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Commission, which was charged with administering the compact and reducing pollution. The compact was approved and implemented by both states in 1970, and has been in force since then.[10]

File:Kerr-McClellan map.png
Inland waterway system with McClellan-Kerr Navigational Channel shown in red

Riverway commerce

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System begins at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris River, enters the Arkansas near Muskogee, and runs via an extensive lock and dam system to the Mississippi River.

Through Oklahoma and Arkansas, dams artificially deepen and widen the river to build it into a commercially navigable body of water. From the mouth of the Verdigris, to the point downstream where the McClellan-Kerr system moves over to the White River near Arkansas Post, the Arkansas sustains commercial barge traffic and offers passenger and recreational use through what is little more than a series of reservoirs.

Watershed trails

File:Devil's Punch Bowl falls, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.jpg
Devil's Punch Bowl falls, Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River in Colorado, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views

Many nations of Native Americans lived near, or along, the 1,450-mile (2334-km) stretch of the Arkansas River for thousands of years. The first Europeans to see the river were members of the Spanish Coronado expedition on June 29, 1541. Also in the 1540s, Hernando de Soto discovered the junction of the Arkansas with the Mississippi. The Spanish originally called the river Napeste.[10] "The name "Arkansas" was first applied by Father Jacques Marquette, who called the river Akansa in his journal of 1673. The Joliet-Marquette expedition travelled the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin towards the gulf of Mexico, but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By that time, they had encountered Native Americans carrying European trinkets, and feared confrontation with Spanish conquistadors.

In 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty set the Arkansas as part of the frontier between the United States and Spanish Mexico. This continued until the United States annexed Texas after the Mexican-American War, in 1846.

Later, the Santa Fe Trail followed the Arkansas through much of Kansas, except for the Cimarron Cutoff from Cimarron, Kansas, to Cimarron, New Mexico, via Cimarron County, Oklahoma along the Cimarron River.

In the 1880s, Charles "Buffalo" Jones, one of the cofounders of Garden City, Kansas, organized four irrigation companies to take water one hundred miles from the Arkansas River to cultivate 75,000 acres (300 km2) of land.[12]


The headwaters of the Arkansas River, in central Colorado, have been known for exceptional trout fishing, particularly fly fishing, since the 19th century, when greenback cutthroat trout dominated the river.[13] Today, brown trout dominate the river, which also contains rainbow trout. Trout Unlimited considers the Arkansas one of the top 100 trout streams in America,[14] a reputation the river has had since the 1950s.[15] From Leadville to Pueblo, the Arkansas River is serviced by numerous fly shops and guides operating in Buena Vista, Salida, Cañon City and Pueblo. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provides regular online fishing reports for the river.[16][17]

A fish kill occurred on December 29, 2010, in which an estimated 100,000 freshwater drum lined the Arkansas River bank.[18][19] An investigation, conducted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, found the dead fish "cover 17 miles of river from the Ozark Lock and Dam downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman, Arkansas."[19] Tests later indicated the likely cause of the kill was gas bubble trauma caused by opening the spillways on the Ozark Dam.[20]


The Arkansas River passing through Little Rock, Arkansas, as viewed from the north bank in North Little Rock

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Arkansas River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 1980-04-30. Retrieved 2010-09-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS)". History & Culture. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2010-09-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 See watershed maps: 1
  4. "USGS Gage #07258000 on the Arkansas River near Dardanelle, AR (monthly flow data)". Water Resources of the United States. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2011-01-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "AISRI Dictionary Database Search--prototype version. "River", Southband Pawnee". American Indian Studies Research Institute. Retrieved 2012-05-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. J.C. Kammerer (May 1990). "Largest Rivers in the United States". United States Geological Survey. Archived from the original on 21 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-05. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Chaffee County Colorado Gold Production". 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2012-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Random House Dictionary
  9. Stewart, George R. (1967). Names on the Land. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 335–340.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 O'Dell, Larry. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Arkansas River.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Kansas v. Colorado 514 U.S. 673 (1995), 185 U.S. 125 (1902)
  12. Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones exhibit, Finney County Historical Museum, Garden City, Kansas
  13. Harris, William C. (September 1892). "The Trouts of Colorado and Utah". The American Angler. XXI (12): 515–528.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Ross, John (2005). Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press. pp. 241–243. ISBN 1-59228-585-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Campbell, Duncan (1960). 88 Top Trout Streams of the West. Newport Beach, CA: Western Outdoors. pp. 64–65.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Bartholomew, Marty (1998). Fly Fisher's Guide to Colorado. Belgrade, MT: Wilderness Adventures Press. pp. 38–49. ISBN 978-1-885106-56-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Colorado Division of Wildlife Fishing Reports
  18. "Experts Close In On What Killed Fish - NW Arkansas News Story - KHBS NW Arkansas". KHBS. January 3, 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Arkansas River Fish Kill Investigation Continues". Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. 01/03/2011. Retrieved 4 January 2011. Check date values in: |date= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Gas Bubble Trauma likely cause of fish kills". Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Retrieved 5 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links