Army Corps Delays Missouri River Dam Reforms Until 2003

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

http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/mmanual/opinion.htm.

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