LINCOLN, Neb. Conservation groups reacted angrily to the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement that it will release an Environmental Impact Statement on Missouri Dam operations by the end of August without specifying how it intends to prevent three river species from going extinct.
"The barge industry, the agricultural lobby, and their political allies have ordered 'about face,' and the Army Corps has snapped to and saluted," said Chad Smith, director of American Rivers' Missouri River Field Office. "After spending twelve years and millions of dollars studying the river, the Corps is afraid to break the good news to the people along the Missouri that it will fix river flows to save fish and wildlife and boost the economies in riverside communities."
Later this month, the Corps will release a draft impact statement for revisions to the Missouri River Master Water Control Manual, the guidebook used by the federal river agency to manage the Missouri's six big dams in Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska. The process has been underway since 1989. In the revision, the Corps must address a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion on Missouri River dam operations that called for an increase in springtime dam release and lower releases in the summer to prevent the extinction of the three species and the further decline of many other native Missouri River species.
All seven state wildlife agencies and the Corps itself have concurred with the federal biologists' conclusion that increased spring flows are needed to provide a reproductive cure for sturgeon, and to build and scour the sandbars used by nesting terns and plovers. Lower summer flows would ensure that sandbars remain dry during the nesting season, and provide shallow water for young fish.
"By dragging its feet on addressing the needs of the Missouri's endangered and threatened species, the Corps could eventually open itself to a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act," Smith said.
According to the Corps' own analysis, making modest flow changes would still provide 99 percent of the system's current flood control benefit, improve drainage for most floodplain farmers at least two out of every three years, and benefit navigation on the lower Mississippi River in the fall and during droughts.
For more information about American Rivers efforts to restore the Missouri River, visit http://www.americanrivers.org/missouririver/default.htm .