News from the Missouri River Initiative: May 2022

Paul Lepisto
People fishing on the Missouri River - credit Paul Lepisto

The "Mighty Mo," America's longest river, flows past communities in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri – plus it receives water from Wyoming, Colorado, and Minnesota. The Izaak Walton League is working with partners throughout the region to make sure this amazing waterway stays healthy. Here's what happened along the river in May.

Missouri River Watershed School Festival Is Back

Over 340 students from six Nebraska and South Dakota schools attended the 12th Missouri River Watershed School Festival. The event returned to Yankton May 5 following two years of COVID cancellation.

The League helps organize the event and coordinates the festival’s 20 presentations. This year's presentations featured the many species that can be found on the river, including native fish and birds, endangered animals, and aquatic invasives. Students also learned how they can safely enjoy the river’s diverse recreational opportunities. Despite cool and rainy conditions, the students and teachers were delighted to have the School Festival back this year.

Determined Volunteers Make Yankton Cleanup a Success

For the first time in three years, a Missouri River Cleanup was held in the Yankton area. The League helps coordinate the event along with federal, state and local organizations. About 60 people battled strong winds on May 7 to gather over 1,300 pounds (two thirds of a ton) of litter and trash in Nebraska and South Dakota.

The 2019 Yankton cleanup was cancelled due to high flows, while the 2020 and 2021 events were not held due to the pandemic. This year's cleanup – the 16th in the Yankton area – was shortened by the dangerously high winds, which also limited where boats and volunteers could go in search of trash.

Severe Weather Strikes Basin

A derecho, a rare and dangerous storm, raced over 250 miles through several states on May 12. The day had 55 reports of high winds, the second-highest number of hurricane-strength winds ever reported in the Midwest in a single storm event. Some gusts topped 100 miles an hour.

The system spawned 16 confirmed tornadoes, with the town of Castlewood, SD, sustaining the most damage. The wind produced a massive dust cloud, reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.

Other areas of the Missouri River basin received significant precipitation this month, lessening drought conditions. But runoff into the Missouri River system remains below average. The upper basin runoff forecast stands at 17.8 million acre feet, or 69 percent of average. That puts 2022 on track to be the 23rd-lowest runoff year on record.

Drought impacts persist in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Dry conditions, coupled with strong winds, have increased wildfire risk in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

The extended outlook calls for warmer and drier conditions through August. The drought could expand into Iowa and Missouri this summer.

Sedimentation Group Holds Annual Meeting

The Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) held its 21st annual meeting May 20 in Yankton. MSAC members received updates on the development of the Lewis and Clark Sediment Management Plan.

Lewis and Clark Lake, the smallest Missouri River reservoir, is already more than 30 percent full of sediment, and it could be half full by 2045. The sediment management plan, which aims to address this problem, is a joint effort between the Corps of Engineers and MSAC. Phase Two of the plan is expected to be completed by this fall.

MSAC supports sustainable management and the steps needed to extend the life of the reservoirs. I’m on MSAC’s board and attended this meeting virtually.

Picking Up Trash With Pierre’s Go Green and Clean Campaign

This spring my wife Donna Leslie and I again participated in Pierre’s Go Green and Clean Campaign. Since 2010, the city has asked volunteers to clean up public lands, parks, ditches, and other areas. The campaign typically attracts about 200 volunteers from businesses and organizations.

Donna and I, working evenings and weekends, picked up about 1,400 pounds (more than two thirds of a ton) of trash, ranging from cigarette butts and drinking straws to tires and scrap metal. We focused our efforts on areas near the river, recycling all the items we could, and bringing the trash to the city for proper disposal.

The Go Green and Clean Campaign culminates with the Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Cleanup on Wednesday, July 6.

Getting Kids Involved in Protecting Our River

May 2 was a very enjoyable day, as I spoke to 70 students in three fifth-grade science classes at Kennedy Elementary School in Pierre. Teacher Lindsey Schilling had invited me to talk about the Missouri River.

I told the students about the history of the Izaak Walton League, the river, and endangered and invasive species. We also talked about how kids can help the river and the environment by picking up litter and trash, including at the Missouri River Cleanup in Pierre-Fort Pierre on July 6.

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Top photo: People fishing below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.