Corps seeks feedback on Missouri River plan

Corps seeks feedback on Missouri River plan by M. Jill Karolevitz The role played by the Missouri River in the history of its course has alternated between that of a villain and a benefactor.

The river�s bad reputation has stemmed from ice jams, flooding and erosion. But its benefits have long been recognized. From Lewis and Clark�s keelboats and 19th century steamboats, to modern-day barges, the river has served as a highway from St. Louis to the Montana Rockies. Wildlife, both above and below the water�s surface, has provided beauty and bounty. The river�s water itself has irrigated farms, provided drinking water and the power for hydroelectricity. And sportsmen have come to love the river for countless recreational activities.

Today, the Missouri River has become a workhorse, corralled and utilized through the construction of six main stem dams starting in 1946 with the Pick-Sloan Plan. Fort Peck in Montana, Garrison in North Dakota and Oahe, Big Bend, Fort Randall and Gavins Point in South Dakota provide flood control, electric power generation and multiple recreational advantages.

Management of the river since the construction of the dams, however, has posed a challenge for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they struggle with a balancing act between recreation and tourism to the north, the barge industry to the south and environmental groups all along the waterway.

For 10 years, the Corps has been working on a new master manual for managing the Missouri River, hoping to achieve consensus from each group. Roy McAllister, Missouri River master manual technical coordinator for the Corps, was in Vermillion Feb. 15 to preview future plans for the river. He discussed the �preferred alternative� plan which, according to the Corps, preserves flexibility of the river�s wide range of purposes.

Some major points of the preferred alternative, according to a Corps of Engineers fact sheet, include:

Flood Control � The base of the annual flood control and multi-use zone will remain at 57.1 million acre feet.

Navigation Support Triggers � These are the storage levels that trigger releases for navigation service flows and season length. Lower levels trigger reduced releases for navigation earlier in droughts. During a drought, navigation target flows would be reduced by 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) if total system storage is less than 54.5 MAF on March 15. Target flows would be reduced by 3,000 cfs and the season shortened to 7.1 months if storage is less than 59 MAF on July 1. In a severe drought, target flows would be reduced by 6,000 cfs from July 1 to Aug. 20 of the following year.

Minimum Storage � This establishes the minimum total storage in the reservoirs during droughts. The new minimum would be 43 MAF in a drought like the 1980s.

Navigation Preclude � This is the minimum storage level on March 15 for navigation support that year. If total storage is less than 31 MAF, there would be no releases from the reservoirs to support navigation.

Flow Enhancement at Fort Peck � This would be an increase in cold water flows from the powerhouse in May and June and a warm water release from the spillway from May through August. These flows are expected to benefit warm water river fish such as the endangered pallid sturgeon.

Flow Enhancement at Gavins Point � The current schedule of flat releases would be maintained.

Split Navigation Season � The preferred alternative does not include a split navigation season.

Intrasystem Unbalancing � This is a three-year cycle of rotating variable water storage in the three largest reservoirs. This would encourage growth of vegetation around the shorelines to provide fish spawning habitat and hiding places for young fish. Lake levels would drop three to five feet and not affect access.

Mississippi River Navigation Target � This establishes a target flow of 90,000 cfs at St. Louis to benefit Mississippi River navigation during years of excess water in the Missouri River system. A maximum additional 5,000 cfs would be released.

The Corps� plan does have its critics, but �what we decide to do is not locked in concrete,� McAllister said. �We need to negotiate throughout the basin to achieve consensus for a measure that is adaptable to all interests.�

The preferred plan will be included in a draft environmental impact statement, scheduled for release in March. But it is still subject to change. After the draft environmental statement is released, the Corps will hold six months of workshops and hearings to gather public comment on the proposal.

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