Historically when the Mississippi River flooded from seasonal rains and/or snow melts, the abundance of water expanded across the floodplains adjacent to its shores. Since the beginning of levee construction back in the 1880's, the floodplains behind the levees no longer were replenished by these natural events.
Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge is located in the floodplain of the Mississippi River and most of the property is surrounded by a levee. The presence of the levee not only restricts the refuge from the seasonal pulses of the river, but also closes it off from the waters which flow from the hillsides down to the river, which is known as the watershed.
Refuge staff manage the refuge by replicating the natural function of the floodplain within the levees. Water is pumped from a tributary to the Mississippi River into ditches laced across the refuge. In turn the water flows into the individually managed units called Moist Soil Units. Each of the individual units is capable of being managed independent from the next allowing for variations in water levels and management techniques used across the landscape.