Johnson gives inaugural address for MRI; Institute will benefit Missouri River future Senator Tim Johnson visits with Brian Molyneaux, Royce Engstrom and Bruce Barton after giving the first Missouri River Institute lecture Monday night. Molyneaux and Barton are co-directors of the institute, under the direction of Engstrom, who is Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at USD. by M. Jill Sundstrom As the Missouri River has changed over the thousands of years of its existence, so, too, have attitudes changed about its purpose.
That�s the message Senator Tim Johnson shared as he gave the inaugural address of the Missouri River Institute�s special lecture series Monday night in Farber Hall.
Johnson spoke of the river�s unique role in South Dakota�s history. As a Vermillion native, he knows first-hand the Missouri River�s impact on the lives of those who enjoy it and depend on it.
�I spent a lot of time boating, tubing and fishing on the river � it was an idyllic kind of growing up,� he said. �Personally I developed a profound appreciation for it.�
He added that people in positions of making public policy � such as he is � must have a concern for the future of the river.
The Missouri River�s impact is enormous and multi-dimensional, Johnson said. Recreation is an $85 million industry, utilizing 85,000 acres along nearly 6,000 miles of shoreline for boating, fishing, hunting, camping and sight-seeing. Navigation, too, plays a significant role in bringing in millions of dollars annually. Hydro-electric power generation through the six dams along the river is a $676 million industry, while water supply systems earn $541 million.
Today�s Missouri River differs greatly from the waterway of Lewis and Clark�s time and before. The Pick-Sloan plan, which, from 1946 to 1966, brought about the construction of the six Missouri River dams, is the major reason for that change. But as the dams harnessed the Missouri River, they also created the need for wise utilization of the river�s assets.
While irrigation and navigation were first thought of as the Missouri River�s best usage, attitudes have shifted.
�Over the years, South Dakota wisely decided we needed better ideas to utilize our water resources,� Johnson said.
The senator noted several water projects for the Missouri River that will supply high-quality, affordable water resources for families and industry.
�We have revamped our thoughts and strategies for water,� Johnson said, �making wise use of one of our greatest resources.�
The Missouri River must also be recognized for its wildlife habitat, too, Johnson noted. But it cannot be done without federal, state and local partnerships �thinking wisely about how to better utilize the Missouri River in an environmentally friendly way,� he said.
�The river�s role in economic development and tourism has another great impact on our state,� Johnson said. �The upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentennial will focus on this river and the surrounding areas.�
Noting Spirit Mound and the recent approval of funding for its preservation, Johnson pointed out Vermillion�s unique location with regard to Lewis and Clark�s journey.
�The preservation of Spirit Mound is important to the history of this area,� he said. �We are lucky here in that we can say this is one of the few sites left where Lewis and Clark actually trod.�
With all its benefits, the Missouri River�s utilization has brought about controversies that linger today, Johnson said.
�When you have a resource of such multi-dimensional impact on a region, it�s not surprising management strategies are multi-dimensional as well,� he said.
Federal, state and local agencies, as well as private landowners have a stake in what happens with the river.
�Because of the huge importance of the river, with the many public and private organizations dealing with it, it�s not surprising that controversies come up due to multiple personalities and ideas,� Johnson said.
Assuring navigational capabilities through a drought, providing electricity and drinking water, recreational development, environmental consequences on wildlife and its habitat, preservation of endangered species, bank stabilization, sedimentation problems and even bridge construction are major concerns. Water rights legislation and land transfer from the Corps of Engineers to the state and Indian tribes will also influence the Missouri River.
�What kind of Missouri River do we envision for now and the future?� Johnson asked.
With its many uses, along with the multiple entities that are involved in the Missouri River�s utilization, he pointed to the Missouri River Institute to provide a new look at the river�s future.
�We need the research that the Missouri River Institute can afford us,� Johnson said. �The river is a part of us, a part of our culture and what being a South Dakotan means. But we also know that we are stewards of this river. Thinking about its future is badly needed and the development of the Missouri River Institute has come at the right time.�