Mississippi River Lock & Dam 15

In 2016, we traveled to Scotland. A highlight of our trip was the week-long barge journey from Inverness to Banavie. It followed the route of the Caledonian Canal allowing us to traverse Lochs Dochfour, Ness, Lochy, and Oich from the North Sea to the Atlantic side of Scotland. The canal was finished in 1822. A fascinating part of the canal is the system of 29 locks used to raise and lower boats. The highest elevation reached is 106 ft above sea level. Our post is here about the lock system. Pictured below is one of the sets of lock gates viewed with Google Maps. The water level in the upper right is higher than at the lower left.

Last week, my friend David and I traveled to the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities to do a boat tour of Lock & Dam 15 conducted by two engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They explained much of the history of the river and early attempts to navigate boats through this region. They also described the maintenance of the dam and locks to further their useful life. They also discussed some of the history of the Rock Island Arsenal as we passed by.

The multiple gates of the dam are on the left in the next image. They control the river flow from upper right to lower left. There are two locks for river traffic just right of center. Our tour boat passed through the smaller of the two locks. Large tugboats and their barges pass through the larger lock.

It is interesting to compare the sizes of the locks in Scotland with these on the river. Satellite images from Google Maps were set to nearly the same scale. A Caledonian Canal lock image is superimposed on the river lock image. Dimensions of the canal lock are 150’x35′. The smaller of the river locks we used is 360’x110′.

Heading Down River

We boarded the Channel Cat to begin our tour. The second picture looks downstream toward the construction of the new I-74 bridge. Several minutes later we passed under the new construction. Click to embiggen.

Once past the bridge we could see a railroad bridge in the distance where the lock and dam are located. Some buildings of downtown Davenport are on the right.

Lock Passage

The front, or upstream, gates of the lock were open and a traffic signal indicated it was okay for our boat to enter. We pulled alongside the wall of the lock and watched the gates close.

After the gates closed, water started to drain out of the lock chamber through a large pipe under the downstream gates. The water flow is entirely by gravity. We watched some writing on the lock wall rise as we descended with the water level. Our level dropped by about 12 ft in a few minutes. The downstream gates opened and we passed out of the lock. We turned around to look back at where we had emerged left of the divider. The railroad bridge from an earlier picture passes over the top. It can be pivoted to allow passage of tall boats and tugs with barges in tow.

Below Dam 15

Our boat made a right turn putting us directly below dam 15. Most of the gates were closed due to low later levels in the river. The engineers monitor water levels daily to maintain at least the minimum depth of 9 ft in the channel.

Several kinds of birds were flying and on the water just below the spillways that were flowing. Stunned fish were there for easy catches by the White Pelicans.

The boat was turned downstream toward Centennial Bridge. There we turned around and headed back toward the lock. We needed to pass through again and have the chamber fill to raise our boat to the higher level where we started our tour.

Virtual Lock Passage

If you are familiar with Google Maps Streetview, use the following link to drive a boat just as you would drive a car on a street. Click the screen in the view in front of the boat to advance forward. You can also drag the screen to look left, right, up, and down. Use your mouse wheel to zoom. You are on your own for tablet and phone controls.


17 thoughts on “Mississippi River Lock & Dam 15

  1. Lock and dam systems are fascinating. I frequently walk along the C&O Canal tow path. The National Park Service has preserved most of the buildings and the stonework. A small portion in Georgetown is operational with a canal boat for tourists to ride.

  2. Super pictures and description of an interesting trip.

    So, that iron bridge behind the lock is a swing bridge, yes? Do you have any more images of it?

    We only have nineteen swing bridges in Oz but there are two right here in Sydney. Amazing engineering designs!

    • I didn’t get any better shots of that swing bridge. Too busy with a few other things at the time. But, if you follow that last link of the virtual lock passage and get yourself into position, you can see more of the details of the bridge.

  3. Great and enjoyable post! I watched barges go into locks when I was living in Minnesota. There was an event on the river we had gone to. We also visited an old flour mill. It is really neat how the whole lock system works. Very impressive. I hope you are well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. There are a lot of memories here. Things have changed, of course, but when I was a kid, we often visited relatives in the Quad Cities, and the river, locks, and bridges were a great attraction. The best catfish I’ve ever eaten came from a restaurant upriver, on the west side: at least, I remember it as wonderful.

    Speaking of rivers, look at this wonderful new ‘toy.’ I spent a good bit of time with it yesterday; it’s intuitive, easy to use, and very interesting.

    • The catfish man would drive around the countryside and stop at our farm before Fridays. Mom would fry it up. We lived about 25 miles from the river. … that mapping tool is fun. Thanks.

  5. Very interesting, three of my children are engineers and would understand this much better than I. Back in the early 1900’s locks were built between the headwaters of the Kootenay and the Columbia Rivers. Only one paddle wheeler passed through it however. The boat got stuck and it had to dynamited loose, wrecking the locks. Shortly after rail lines were laid making river passage obsolete at the headwaters. Parts of the wreckage can still be seen in the canal. The town beside it was even named after the debacle, Canal Flats.

    • The Caledonian Canal in Scotland was finished in the 1820s. The government expected lots of barge and boat traffic. Then, the railroads came shipping goods cheaper and faster. The canal became more of a recreational thing.

    • That shipping route passes huge amount of goods through. Too much or too little water needs to be controlled. It is a big challenge. Thanks for the article.

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