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News from the Missouri River Initiative: December 2022

Paul Lepisto
Ice 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 December.

Major Storms Blast Basin

Two major winter storms, Diaz and Elliot, trudged across the country in December. Diaz, which brought 60-mile-an-hour winds, rain, and more than four feet of snow, completely shut down areas of the basin. Elliot had snow, gusty winds, and wind chills that dropped to -50 degrees, complicating people’s Christmas travel plans.

For just the third time since 1950, we’re under the influence of a La Niña weather pattern for the third year in a row. La Niñas typically bring below-average temperatures to the upper Midwest.

Upper basin runoff for 2022 is predicted to total 19.0 million acre feet (maf), which would be 74 percent of average. Water stored in the reservoirs is more than 10 maf below the system’s flood control zone. Pool levels are expected to be low through at least March, the start of the 2023 runoff season.

The upper basin snowpack, which is important for replenishing reservoir levels, is running above average. But it’s too early to project the final snowpack, which doesn't peak until mid-April.

Management of the Missouri River will be challenging for the Corps next year. See the 2023 Missouri River Annual Operating Plan (AOP).

Update on Sediment Management Plan

The Corps of Engineers has released a draft final report on Phase 2 of the Lewis and Clark Sediment Management Plan. The Corps and the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) are developing the congressionally authorized plan.

Lewis and Clark Lake, the smallest of the six Missouri River reservoirs, has seen massive amounts of sediment accumulate. That sediment is seriously impacting the reservoir’s usefulness for recreation and water storage.

Next year, the sediment management plan will move into Phase 3, which will include economic and environmental analysis of methods to remove some of the sediment in the upper end of the lake and to prevent more sediment from entering the reservoir.

I serve on MSAC’s board. Learn more about the process behind the sediment management plan.

Sioux Falls Hosts Big Sioux River Summit

On December 8, the City of Sioux Falls hosted the 10th Big Sioux River and Sustainability Summit. The event explores ways to improve the Big Sioux River.

This year, there were presentations on water quality, climate, and conservation. I attended the summit, as did members of the League’s Sioux Falls Chapter.

The Big Sioux is one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. Its watershed is shared amongst South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. Learn more about the summit meeting.

South Dakota Task Force Recommends Project Funding

At a meeting on December 6 in Pierre, the Non-Point Source Task Force of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) reviewed four water quality improvement project applications.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing funding from the Clean Water Act for these projects. But that funding is not sufficient to fully pay for the projects.

Following presentations and discussion, the Task Force concurred with a DANR staff recommendation to chip in nearly $2 million towards the proposed work. That funding recommendation now moves to the South Dakota Board of Water and Natural Resources, after which it will go to EPA’s Denver office.

I represent the League on the Task Force. Learn more about the four projects.

Nebraska Unveils Outdoor Participation Plan

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) unveiled their new R3 plan on December 2. R3 stands for Recruit, Retain, and Reactivate.

The NGPC plan is part of a national effort to increase participation in outdoor activities, especially fishing, hunting, and the shooting sports. So far the NGPC plan is the only one in the nation that also encompasses boating and camping.

NGPC has been working on strategies to make the plan succeed. More information on R3 will come out next year, and the plan will be implemented from 2023 through 2027.

I attended the December 2 meeting virtually. Read the Nebraska R3 plan.

Signups Are Now Open for Big Sioux Conservation Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department (GFP) have expanded opportunities to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). A voluntary signup period is now open for landowners in 18 eastern South Dakota counties in the Big Sioux River watershed.

CREP practices improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, enhance wildlife habitat, and create additional public recreational access. The agencies hope that at least 25,000 acres will be enrolled.

CREP focuses on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts and developing 10-15-year access agreements. Participating landowners restore marginal cropland or pastureland to wetlands, grass, or other approved vegetation with cost-share assistance; in exchange, they receive annual rental payments. Enrolled acres are open to walk-in hunting and fishing.

Interested landowners can learn more about CREP from their local USDA Service Center, a GFP private lands biologist, a Pheasants Forever biologist, or the Pheasants Forever website.

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Top photo: Ice on the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.