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News from the Missouri River Initiative: June 2022

Paul Lepisto
Boat ramp - 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 June.

June Brings a Variety of Weather

Heavy rains and a rapid mountain snow melt resulted in record flooding on the Yellowstone River in Montana. The devastating flood destroyed homes, bridges and highways, and it shut down Yellowstone National Park. That floodwater will flow into the Missouri River reservoir system.

Other parts of the Missouri River basin also had an active month. Supercell thunderstorms, with high winds and large hail, impacted many areas. The precipitation led the Corps of Engineers to increase their runoff forecast to 18.3 million acre feet, which would be 71 percent of average. The runoff estimate will be updated again in early July.

The reservoir system storage check on July 1 will set the flow rate and the length of the rest of this year’s navigation season. If storage remains low, water conservation measures currently in place could continue into next year. Low water is impacting recreational access on some areas of the river as well as on some of the region’s lakes. Check the status of South Dakota’s boat ramps.

The basin’s persistent drought reflects what’s occurring in the western United States. The 22-year-long "megadrought" is the region’s driest period in over 1,200 years. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet described the drought as a "five-alarm fire." Learn more.

Yankton Event Returns

The Lake Yankton Outdoor Festival-Homestead Day was held June 11. It had a successful return following two years of COVID-related cancellation.

The event engages kids and adults in outdoor activities including kayaking, fishing and archery. People attended presentations on birds of prey, reptiles and amphibians, water safety, and historical activities. The fantastic weather brought a steady stream of people throughout the event. I worked with federal, state and local organizations to coordinate it.

Conservation Program Proposed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are proposing a major conservation program for eastern South Dakota. Land within the Big Sioux River watershed is eligible for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. CREP, part of the Conservation Reserve Program, improves water quality, controls soil erosion, and enhances habitat. Landowners receive a rental payment based on enrolled acres.

Parts of 18 South Dakota counties are eligible. Organizers want to enroll 25,000 acres initially, with the future goal of 100,000 acres in the program. The Big Sioux watershed includes areas of South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. The river, along with many of its tributaries, is highly impaired due to agricultural runoff and other pollutants.

CREP acres are open to public hunting and fishing. The Big Sioux enters the Missouri River near Sioux City. The League’s South Dakota Division submitted a letter supporting the proposal.

Increased Angling Access Planned

The U.S. Forest Service plans to increase angler access on the popular Fort Pierre National Grasslands in central South Dakota. Dams on the grassland, cooperatively managed with South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, support year-round fisheries and a variety of species. The proposal includes new boat ramps and enhanced access on selected dams.

The proposal also includes road improvement projects to lessen soil erosion and increase water quality on the grassland and in runoff to the Missouri River. The 116,000-acre grassland offers tremendous public opportunities. Our South Dakota Division submitted a letter supporting the proposal.

Learn more about the plan.

Commission Gets Sediment Update

On June 7, city commissioners in Pierre learned about the Lewis and Clark Lake sediment management plan. The Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) are developing the plan, which will serve as a template for the Missouri River reservoirs as well as for Corps projects across the country.

I serve on MSAC’s board through an appointment by the City of Pierre; I provided the June 7 update and a look at the plan’s upcoming timeline. City officials are concerned about sedimentation, especially in upper Lake Sharpe near Pierre and Fort Pierre. Of the six Missouri River reservoirs, Lewis and Clark Lake is the most impacted by sediment.

Read more about the plan.

July Fourth Reminders

This will be a busy weekend on the Missouri River and on other waters. As you are out, remember the three simple steps to prevent spreading invasive species: clean, drain, and dry all your equipment every time you come off the water to assure you're not moving a plant or animal species to another waterbody.

And improve the water you recreate on by picking up litter and trash at the boat ramp or in other areas, even if it isn't yours. Trash impacts fish and wildlife as well as water quality – make a difference by picking it up! Remember the Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Cleanup is coming up Wednesday, July 6, from 5-8 p.m. Central at Downs Marina in Griffin Park in Pierre. Registration begins at 4:30. Come and help us! Call or email me (plepisto@iwla.org or 605-220-1219), or simply show up and pitch in.

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Top photo: People at a boat ramp. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.