News from the Missouri River Initiative: May 2023

Paul Lepisto
Calm 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.

Good News and Bad News

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act does not apply to a majority of the nation’s wetlands. In announcing its decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, which concerns which types of wetlands are protected from pollution, the Court has drastically narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act by eliminating protections for wetlands except in extreme, limited circumstances. Read more.

In better news, the companies seeking a license for the Gregory County Pumped Storage Project on Lake Francis Case in South Dakota have withdrawn their application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The project would have used Missouri River water to generate additional hydropower. The proposal drew widespread opposition from area landowners and other stakeholders.

While the League supports renewable energy, we submitted multiple comments on the proposed project stating our concerns about the environmental and economic impacts this project could have had on Lake Francis Case, the Missouri River, and the local area.

League Participates in Two Missouri River Cleanups

The 17th Missouri River Cleanup, hosted by the National Park Service, was held on May 6 in Yankton. Over 60 volunteers removed 1,560 pounds of litter and trash from along the river. The League worked with federal and state agencies, the City of Yankton, and other organizations to complete this event.

On May 20 I joined over 200 volunteers for a Missouri River Cleanup in Omaha-Council Bluffs. This event was organized by Missouri River Relief. The cleanup removed six and a half tons of trash. Learn more about this cleanup.

The League is also coordinating the Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Cleanup, which will be held Wednesday, July 12. These events result in a healthier Missouri River and a more pleasing place for people to recreate.

Corps Hosts Adaptive Management Workshop

On May 16-18 I attended a workshop in Nebraska City, NE, on the Corps of Engineers’ Adaptive Management Compliance Report (AMCR) for the Missouri River Recovery Program.

The annual congressionally required report assesses recovery program actions. Members of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC), technical experts, and agency staff attended.

The AMCR focuses on efforts designed for the threatened piping plover and the endangered pallid sturgeon. Funding cuts have limited what is being done. Learn more.

Sedimentation Group Holds Annual Meeting

The Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC) held its 22nd annual meeting May 19 in Yankton.

Corps of Engineers staff provided an update on Phase 2 of the Lewis and Clark Lake Sedimentation Plan and the next steps needed in the multi-year process. The Corps discussed economic and environmental benefits of potential alternative strategies for dealing with the massive amount of sediment in the reservoir. A final report on Phase 2 is due in mid-June, with Phase 3 scheduled to begin later this year.

Lewis and Clark Lake, the smallest of the Missouri River reservoirs, is over 30 percent full of sediment. The Corps estimates the lake will be 50 percent full by 2045.

The sediment plan is jointly funded by the Corps and MSAC. It’s anticipated the lessons learned in the Lewis and Clark Lake process will benefit the other Missouri River reservoirs in the future.

At the meeting, MSAC also held elections. Mark Simpson was reelected as president, while Mary Hurd and I were reelected as board members. Learn more.

Upper Basin Runoff Increases

Late snow added runoff throughout the upper Missouri River basin. The Corps of Engineers increased the runoff forecast to 26.9 million acre feet (MAF), which would be 105 percent of average. That figure is 0.5 MAF higher than last month’s forecast. Below-average soil moisture exists in eastern Montana and the western Dakotas, and well-below-average soil moisture remains in Nebraska and Kansas.

The mountain snowpack ended slightly above average, but low reservoir levels have the Corps continuing water conservation measures. That means providing only minimum flows for the first half of the navigation season. Flow support for the second half of the season, and the season length, will be based on the amount of water in storage on July 1.

Learn more.

League Involved in Festivals and an Expo

The League helped organize the Missouri River Watershed School Festival in Yankton on May 4. The festival had 20 presentations, coordinated by the League. The kids attended seven presentations and learned about the river and our resources.

The festival welcomed over 500 Nebraska and South Dakota high school students, the second-largest attendance in the event's 13-year history. The School Festival is extremely popular with students and teachers. Planning for next year is already underway.

On May 9, members of the Izaak Walton League's Sioux Falls Chapter and I participated in the Big Sioux Water Festival in Brookings. The festival was attended by over 1,100 fifth-grade students from 24 schools. The kids learned about the importance of clean water, protecting water sources, and preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Learn more.

Finally, members of the League’s Grand Island Chapter and I participated in the Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo in Kearney, NE, on May 13. This year marked the return of this event for the first time since 2019. The expo features a variety of hands-on outdoor activities for all ages and encourages people to get active in the outdoors. We helped kids and adults build about 200 bird feeders out of plastic bottles. We also handed out information about the League and our conservation programs.

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

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