Plan addresses low Missouri River levels

Plan addresses low Missouri River levels Gov. Bill Janklow said Sunday that public boat ramps on the Missouri River must be improved in South Dakota so they can be open to the public whether the water is at its highest or lowest points.

"We can't control how much water Mother Nature sends us, and most of the time we can't control what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does with that water, but we can make sure families and sportsmen can get to the water, and get there safely, when it's low like this," Janklow said.

Last spring, as Janklow took the Corps to court to hold the reservoirs steady during the fish spawning season, he also directed the state Game, Fish and Parks Department to evaluate the existing boat ramps and marina sites and make recommendations to improve boating access during low water on the four Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota.

Janklow said the field study is complete and identifies improvements possible at more than 50 sites. Total cost estimated is $23.1 million. The next immediate steps call for a cost-benefit analysis of the recommendations for each site by GF&P and presenting the recommendations for initial public review by a citizens panel.

The governor said he will announce members of the review panel in the next few weeks so that they can begin to help fine-tune the plan this fall. He said the first public presentation of the plan will be made to the panel. He also wants meetings held in communities along the river.

Janklow said he would then take the plan at the appropriate time to Washington, DC, for presentations to members of President Bush's administration and members of Congress.

"I know $23 million is a lot of money, but this would be a crucial investment in strengthening the economies of every county along the river. For those of us fortunate enough to live in South Dakota, we love the Missouri River. As more and more people from other places in America discover us, they're falling in love with the river and South Dakota just like us," Janklow said.

The study identified as many sites as possible that could be improved so they are functional whether water was at flood level or at extreme drought level. On Lake Oahe, for example, the work covered a range of 50 feet in water elevation, from a height of 1,620 feet above sea level to a low of 1,570. The 1,620 mark is the elevation of the reservoir's spillway gates. The 1,570 mark is 11 feet below the lowest water level recorded on Oahe of 1,581 feet in October 1989. Oahe fluctuates the most among the four reservoirs.

The study included reviews of the current ramps, roads and parking as well as terrain, wind, water and silt conditions. Recommendations for improvements include extending current ramps or, in some cases, leaving the current ramp in place and building a new longer ramp elsewhere at the same site. In many cases, the recommendations include hardening and/or extending natural points along the shoreline so the improved ramp areas are better protected from wind and from silt build-up. In some isolated cases, no improvements are needed on the current ramps for low water or the natural conditions don't allow practical improvements.

Janklow said the other big issue that needs to be addressed is federal management of the Missouri River. Janklow's lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers remains active in federal court. But he said it's "crazy" that states have to sue the federal government.

"I think most everyone in South Dakota would agree that some other entity should manage the river if the Corps of Engineers can't do it responsibly and continues to refuse to follow the federal law, but the issue is far bigger than just who runs the river," Janklow said.

"This mess is as much the fault of Congress and past administrations in Washington, DC, from both political parties as it is the fault of the Corps. One Congress has been letting the Corps get away with this for decades, and two, Congress has kept passing laws that pit different groups against one another on the river, and three, Congress hasn't provided the money to enforce and fulfill those laws."

Janklow called for a national review of the federal laws and regulations that affect the river throughout the eight states of the Missouri Basin.

"It's more than just changing the agency that runs the river. We have to change the entire approach. We have a half-century of laws and regulations, administration by different federal agencies who have been given conflicting and competing mandates by Congress. It's a tangled mess. We saw what happened with our national forests. We can't let that happen on the Missouri River," Janklow said.

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