News from the Missouri River Initiative: July 2023

Paul Lepisto
Oahe Tailrace engulfed by wildfire smoke - 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 July.

River Cleanup Held in Pierre-Fort Pierre

The Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Cleanup was held July 12th. In three hours, 85 volunteers collected 2,830 pounds (1.42 tons) of litter and trash, including 1,230 pounds of lumber, 1,080 pounds of trash, 380 pounds of scrap metal, 100 pounds of concrete, and a 40-pound tire. This year’s total was less than last year’s record total of 4.14 tons; that's good news because it meant there was less trash that needed to be cleaned up.

The cleanup was conducted by boats and land crews and was coordinated by the League; SD Game, Fish and Parks; Fish and Wildlife Service; Army Corps of Engineers; and the cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre. Fifteen businesses and organizations provided food and other needed supplies.

In 13 cleanups since 2009, 900 volunteers have removed over 28 tons of trash from the Missouri River in the Pierre-Fort Pierre area. The cleanups make the river healthier for fish and wildlife and a more pleasing place for people to recreate. This year’s cleanup received coverage from local radio stations, plus this article in the Pierre Capital Journal. Planning for next year’s cleanup is underway.

July Brought a Variety of Conditions

Above-average precipitation increased runoff into the upper Missouri River this month. The Corps of Engineers boosted the 2023 runoff forecast to 29.2 million acre feet (MAF). That would be 114 percent of average.

Above-average precipitation in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and western South Dakota has raised water stored in the reservoir system by more than 10 MAF since March. The Corps said full system recovery will take time, and water conservation measures may remain in effect into next year.

Other areas in the basin, especially parts of the lower basin, received below-average precipitation. Low flows and high temperatures led to a massive fish kill on the Des Moines River. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found 20,000 dead shovelnose sturgeon from Ottumwa to Farmington. Water temperatures in the upper 80s are thought to be the cause. Some of the sturgeon were over 40 years old.

The drought has dropped the Mississippi River 10 feet below average in some reaches. The chance of getting out of drought this year is limited as we move into what typically is a drier time of the year.

(In other notes about weather, the photo at the top of this blog shows the Oahe Tailrace engulfed by smoke from the wildfires in Canada. The photo was taken Sunday, July 16.)

Zebra Mussels Continue to Spread

Several more waterbodies have become infested with zebra mussels. South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks confirmed zebra mussels in Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the upper James River. And the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reported zebra mussels in Beaver Lake, a private water body near Plattsmouth.

This is the most active time of the year for boaters and anglers. Always clean, drain and dry all your equipment every time you come off the water. It only takes minutes to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Do your part! Don’t be the one who spreads invasive plant or animal species to other waters. You can learn more in this article from the Yankton Press and Dakotan.

League Secures Gilchrist Foundation Grant

The League successfully secured another $25,000 Project Grant from the Gilchrist Foundation in Sioux City. This year the Gilchrist Foundation received requests totaling more than $3.5 million for the $1.9 million they had available.

Funding from the Gilchrist Foundation grant will be used for many activities, including:

  • The 2024 Missouri River Watershed School Festival and Missouri River Cleanup in Yankton
  • Engagement with the sediment management plan for Lewis and Clark Lake with the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition
  • Our involvement with the Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River
  • A portion of our work on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee
  • Maintenance of the fishing line bins we installed near Yankton

The Gilchrist Foundation has been a long-time supporter of the Missouri River Initiative, and we enjoy collaborating with them.

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Top photo: The Oahe Tailrace engulfed by smoke from the wildfires in Canada. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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