For decades, Missouri Farm Bureau (MOFB) has been involved in issues related to the Missouri River as management issues affect not only those who live and work along the river but farms and rural communities throughout the state. Part of that involvement affords MOFB the opportunity to provide comments when Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) are drawn up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).
Recently, representatives of MFB provided oral and written remarks at DEIS public meetings held in Kansas City and St. Louis. In the DEIS, USFWS and the Corps offered six alternatives for Missouri River management. MFB comments were predicated on background gained from those who live and work along the Missouri River. We can attest to their ongoing frustration with USFWS and the Corps over the continued uncertainty of river management.
Many believe “adaptive management” is a synonym for experimenting on private property. As an example, ongoing disagreements over the construction of shallow water habitat (chutes) in Missouri have called into question the agencies’ desire to find commonsense ways to enhance habitat for the pallid sturgeon. To put it succinctly, it is difficult to point to progress despite spending $825 million on the recovery program since 1992.
Aside from Alternative 1 (No Action), each of the alternatives relax flood control constraints within the current Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Water Control Master Manual. In April, the Missouri River rose approximately 12 feet in one week. Providing flood control and effective interior drainage is of utmost importance to Missouri farmers, thus it will come as no surprise that MFB, and many other Missouri organizations, vehemently oppose any change in river flow that increases the likelihood of flooding during any time of year. This is non-negotiable.
Production agriculture is at best difficult under normal conditions; farmers do not need to contend with man-made floods that prevent/delay planting, lower yields or require additional costs for levee reinforcement, sandbagging or pumping.
While Alternative 3 (Corps Preferred Alternative) is less objectionable than Alternatives 2, 4, 5 and 6, it still includes the possibility of flow modifications in the future. This is especially disappointing as neither economic nor hydrologic modeling has been completed for the entire floodplain.
Additionally, any alternative that includes low summer flow provisions should be removed from the Corps’ consideration due to its impacts on navigation and public utility operations. Low flows would kill the navigation industry, which has seen a recent resurgence due to improved conditions on the river. Commercial navigation is dependent upon flow certainty and there are numerous advantages to increasing utilization of our inland waterway system. The combination of water-compelled rates and the importance of flows from the Missouri River to the Middle Mississippi River should spell doom for any serious consideration of summer low flows. The Missouri River’s role as a marine highway will only become more important as U.S. farmers continue seeking new markets for their products.
While pleased the Corps and USFWS are moving away from the construction of chutes, concern remains about Interception Rearing Complexes (IRC) or Shallow Water Habitat 2.0. Little is known about the impacts of IRCs, yet plans call for 12 to be constructed over a six-year period. It would make sense to construct one pilot IRC and conduct research to determine its effectiveness before spending the time and money on a dozen.
Further, species recovery can and should be done in a responsible way that does not cause economic hardship to those associated with the Missouri River. This entails a continued working relationship with stakeholders throughout the Missouri River Basin and adoption of management practices that reflect the importance of flood control and navigation as well as the other uses authorized by Congress.