News from the Missouri River Initiative: October 2022

Paul Lepisto
Sunny day on the 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 October.

Drought Tightens Its Grip on Basin

The Missouri River basin’s drought continues to cause problems. Extremely dry conditions, coupled with high winds, accelerated wildfires that destroyed acres of vegetation and infrastructure in basin states, including Nebraska and Iowa. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 90 percent of the basin now ranges from abnormally dry to levels of drought. Runoff is expected to be low the rest of the year.

The Corps of Engineers reduced the annual upper basin runoff forecast to 19.5 million acre feet (maf). That would be 76 percent of average. An acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep. On October 21 there was 47.6 maf of water in the Missouri River reservoir system, 2 maf less than a year ago. The Corps predicts that the reservoirs will lose an additional 2 maf before the start of the 2023 runoff season in March.

The drought isn’t unique to the Missouri River basin – the entire western U.S. is in severe to extreme drought. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers are seeing record low levels. For the third consecutive year the country’s weather is under the influence of a La Niña system. La Niñas typically bring cooler-than-average winter temperatures to the Midwest, especially in February and March.

Learn more about the drought.

Corps Outlines 2023 River Management

The Corps of Engineers held seven public meetings in late October to discuss their draft 2022-2023 Annual Operating Plan (AOP) for the Missouri River Reservoir System. The AOP provides an outline for water management under high or low runoff conditions. I attended the October 25 meeting in Fort Pierre.

Corps staff discussed impacts of the persistent drought and low basin runoff on the river. They also explained the steps they are taking – and those they may have to implement later – to conserve water in the system.

The League will submit formal comments on the draft plan before the comment period closes on November 23.

Read the draft AOP.

League Comments on Proposed Energy Project

Two companies have revised a plan to construct a massive energy project along the Missouri River in Gregory County, SD. The companies have begun an extensive permitting process to try to get a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Gregory County Pumped Storage Project.

The League submitted scoping comments to FERC. The comments regarded the Pre-Application Document, which outlines potential economic and environmental impacts that need to be studied before the project can be licensed and built.

If approved, the project would be located on the west side of the Missouri River near Platte, SD. The project would pump large amounts of water from Lake Francis Case into a newly constructed reservoir above the lake. The water would then be released back into the lake through turbines to generate hydropower when energy prices are favorable.

Read the project developer's statement of intent.

Read the League's scoping comments.

South Dakota Ikes Comment on Grouse Management Plan

The League's South Dakota Division submitted comments to SD Game, Fish, and Parks regarding the agency's draft Prairie Grouse Management Plan. The revised plan will look for ways to conserve grassland habitat and to collaborate with interested landowners and public land managers to protect and enhance grasslands across the state.

Grassland habitat is being converted to cropland at an alarming rate. Prairie grouse numbers have declined from the lack of habitat. The new plan will guide prairie grouse management in South Dakota for the next 10 years.

Read the Division’s comment letter.

Wildlife Managers Need Your Help This Fall

When you’re out enjoying the outdoors this fall, please notify state wildlife officials about any sick or dead deer, elk, bighorn sheep, or antelope you see. Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is spreading again in big game populations. This always-fatal viral disease results in high fever, internal bleeding, swelling, lesions, lethargy, increased heart rate, dehydration, salivation, loss of coordination, and lack of fear of humans.

EHD does not affect humans, but it can devastate big game populations. The disease is spread when a tiny midge or gnat bites an animal and then carries the virus to other animals. Infected or dead animals are often found in or near water as they try to seek relief from the symptoms.

EHD can be more prevalent during a drought because midges and gnats hatch on mud flats that are exposed in times of low water. If you see a sick or dead big game animal, please contact the nearest state wildlife office.

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Top photo: A sunny day on the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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