News from the Missouri River Initiative: April 2023

Paul Lepisto
Bridge 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 April.

Basin Conditions Improve

Late-season snow boosted runoff into the Missouri River system. The Corps of Engineers raised the 2023 runoff forecast to 26.4 million acre-feet (MAF), which would be 103 percent of average.

According to the Corps, the reservoir system needs more runoff to recover from the drought. The most intense drought conditions are in Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. There is a continuing risk of more wildfires with the dry conditions and the dry vegetation that currently exists. The recent precipitation increases the chance that drought conditions will lessen, or even be removed, in parts of the basin.

The plains snowpack remained on the ground much longer this year. That was due to lengthy periods of below-average temperatures that limited snowmelt. When it did warm up, temperatures increased rapidly. This resulted in a fast snowmelt which caused flooding in some rivers and lakes in the eastern Dakotas.

The Corps held meetings in early April to discuss water management and expected runoff. Two meetings scheduled in South Dakota were canceled due to a blizzard. The Corps provided a virtual meeting April 20 in place of the cancelled meetings.

I submitted comments on the Corps’ water management plans and 2023 operation of the reservoir system. Read the comments.

Possible Budget Cut for River Recovery Program

The Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) may suffer another budget cut. The President’s Budget Request (P-Bud) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 is $17,459,000. If Congress approves the P-Bud amount, it would be $7.5 million less than the current FY 23 budget of $25.2 million. The FY 24 budget request is over $11 million less than the Corps of Engineers MRRP’s capability level of $28,950,000. "Capability" is what the Corps needs to complete the work they could do in a year if they were fully funded.

The $25.2 million in the FY 23 budget was a significant increase over previous MRRP budgets. We had hoped that robust funding for the program had returned. The proposed FY 24 budget decrease would reduce what the Corps can accomplish along the river.

The cut in funding will impact fish and wildlife mitigation efforts along the lower river and will decrease the level of engagement by the Missouri River Recovery implementation Committee (MRRIC) in the coming year. The League backs the capability amount of $28,950,000. We’ll submit a letter of support for full capability funding to congressional appropriation subcommittees as they begin debating the FY 24 federal budget.

Farm Bill Summit Held in Sioux Falls

The League, the National Wildlife Federation, and other conservation and agricultural groups from four states participated in a Farm Bill Summit at the Sioux Falls Chapter in late March. The groups determined common goals and priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill. The priorities were submitted to the House and Senate Agricultural Committees.

Congress is working on the Farm Bill as the current bill is set to expire September 30. The groups agreed to collaborate and continue communication with the congressional delegation staff on conservation and sustainable agricultural practices as the House and Senate develop language for this year’s Farm Bill. Thanks to the Sioux Falls Chapter and its members for hosting the summit.

League Submits Multiple Comment Letters

This spring, comment periods are springing up like tulips or morel mushrooms! In addition to our comments on Missouri River Water Management listed above, I also prepared and submitted the following comment letters this month.

First, we submitted comments expressing concerns on a proposed gold exploration project in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Next, we submitted a letter supporting SD Game, Fish and Parks’ new prairie grouse action plan.

Then we submitted comments to MidAmerican Energy on a proposal to increase wastewater discharge into the Missouri River from a coal-fired steam plant near Sioux City.

We also submitted a letter to the Corps of Engineers supporting a proposal for the Corps to join state-led efforts to increase watercraft inspections stations to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in the upper Missouri River Basin.

And we submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the revised study plan for the proposed Gregory County Pumped Storage Project along the Missouri River in south-central South Dakota.

Upcoming Events

We’re days away from two major events in Yankton. The League helps coordinate the Missouri River Watershed School Festival and the Yankton Area Missouri River Cleanup.

The School Festival is Thursday, May 4. Over 500 students are expected to attend. The cleanup is Saturday, May 6. We’ll pick up litter and trash to make the river healthier and a more pleasing place for people to recreate.

The League will also participate in the Big Sioux Water Festival in Brookings on May 9. Over 1,100 fifth-grade students are expected. And on Saturday, May 13, the League will be at the Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo in Kearney, NE.

Your help is needed at all these events. If you want more details, please contact me at or call 605-220-1219.

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

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