In a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers, 24 environmental groups
said the Army Corps’ decision to delay certain Missouri River dam
operation reforms until 2003 ignores the needs of the river’s recreational users
and brings three species closer to extinction.
The coalition of national and local conservation groups urged the Corps to
reduce summer water flow releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota
to aid three federally endangered species: the interior least tern, piping plover,
and pallid sturgeon. The groups also urged the Corps to increase spring dam
releases if drought conditions improve.
The Corps has failed to meet reproductive goals for terns and plovers in eight
of the last 10 years. “Unless dam operations are reformed, these species will
inch closer to extinction and more species will require protection,” said
Environmental Defense water resources specialist Scott Faber.
Missouri River dam operations are leading to the extinction of these species
by eliminating rising spring flows and low summer flows to aid a handful of
barges. Rising spring flows create sandbars needed by nesting terns and
plovers, and trigger spawning by sturgeon; low summer flows ensure that
sandbars remain exposed until chicks fly away and provide shallow places for
young sturgeon. “The Corps should recognize that the Missouri River is more
than a little-used barge highway,” said Chad Smith, Director of American
Rivers’ Missouri River Field Office.
Recreation from boating and fishing generates about $87 million in annual
economic benefits while barge traffic generates only about $7 million,
according to Corps studies. Even so, the Corps ignores recreation needs to
support barges between Sioux City and St. Louis.
Dam reforms would not impact traditional river users, studies show.
Increasing spring releases would not increase flooding of homes and farms
behind levees or impact low-lying farmland, according to federal studies.
Barge navigation would continue during the spring and fall, when more than
80% of farm-related cargo is shipped on the Missouri. Dam reforms would
also benefit Mississippi River barges by providing more water to the
Mississippi when barge shipments are heaviest.
Read the letter to the Corps and a list of groups signing it, which is also
available at www.americanrivers.org. The Corps’ plan and the US Fish and
Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion is at
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