When a town loses a river, the situation can become explosive.
It has for Grayville, a town of about 2,300 that, until 1985, sat on the banks of the Wabash River.The town didn't move; the river did, and now, after three years of waiting for federal agencies or floods to return the river to its "rightful" course, some frustrated residents are threatening to use dynamite.
"If Mother Nature doesn't do it, man will," said John Farmer, who owns the Hard Times fish market in this southeastern Illinois town.
If Grayville's economic situation were better, residents might be more tolerant of the river's shift. Several years ago, Grayville was a thriving oil producer, but about the time the river changed course, cheaper imports glutted the market.
And because this year's drought dried up anticipated agricultural income, the stagnant channel has become an unpleasant reminder of hard times.
Before the river changed course, hundreds of fishermen used to crowd Grayville's restaurants, bars and gas stations every weekend. The money they spent once would have buffered losses from oil and agriculture.
But now, like the Wabash, the anglers don't come around anymore.
When spring floods receded in 1985, residents discovered the river had left them. A new channel had cut off the horseshoe bend upon which Grayville was founded.
Water that used to flow at 40 feet per second now doesn't move at all. Silt that once was washed downstream is now filling in the old channel, and tall weeds have taken over the sand bars that boaters and swimmers once flocked to. Grayville's boat ramp is usually empty.
For three years, residents pleaded with federal and state officials for money to bring the rambling river home. Federal agencies came up with a package that would cost the town $900,000, a quarter of the cost to build a dam to divert the Wabash back.
"There's no way the town could come up with $900,000," said Mayor Jack Hagedorn, noting that the town's entire annual budget is barely over $1 million.