News from the Missouri River Initiative: September 2023

Paul Lepisto
Sunflowers - 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 September.

Recovery Committee Approves Mitigation Recommendations

The Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) has approved two recommendations related to the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project. The recommendations gained final approval on September 25. The mitigation project authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to acquire land from willing sellers to restore 166,750 acres of the 522,000 acres of habitat lost to the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

The recommendations to the Corps’ Northwest Division, and to Michael Connor, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, urge the Corps to seek the funding needed to acquire land for the mitigation project. The recommendations encouraged the Corps to focus purchases on private inholdings within existing mitigation areas or on parcels contiguous to mitigation project lands. The recommendations also ask the Corps for more information on the Lower Missouri Flood Risk Resiliency Study and other land acquisition efforts. Finally, the recommendations ask the Corps to include flood risk reduction and habitat creation, and to cooperate with local communities and Tribes on those upcoming opportunities.

League Comments on Pallid Habitat Projects

The League submitted comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on two pallid sturgeon habitat projects. The projects, known as Interception Rearing Complexes (IRCs), will be built between Kansas City and St. Louis. IRCs are designed to slightly modify river flows to get newly hatched pallids out of the navigation channel and into slower, shallow water. This helps the young fish reach areas where they can feed and develop.

The Corps announced these will be the last IRCs that will be constructed. The Corps has entered formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a new approach to pallid recovery. They will release a new Biological Assessment (BA) within six months. FWS will then issue a Biological Opinion on the BA. The Independent Science Advisory Panel and the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee will also review the Corps’ new approach.

The 2018 Missouri River Recovery Management Plan called for 12 IRCs to be built over six years. That won’t happen. The League is disappointed the IRC experiment won’t be completed, but we commend the Corps for utilizing adaptive management, outlined in the Science and Adaptive Management Plan, to develop a new approach to achieve pallid sturgeon reproduction and recruitment.

Read our comment letters on the IRCs at Pelican Bend and at Plowboy Bend.

Dramatic Change in Basin Conditions

A large system brought widespread rain to the Missouri River basin in late September. However, a portion of the basin is still in drought. Below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures this summer caused drought conditions to expand.

Water stored in the reservoir system remains below average, and reservoir levels are expected to decline the rest of the year. To conserve water, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced navigation releases to 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is 1,500 cfs below full-service flows.

Rains over parts of the basin prompted the Corps to increase the 2023 upper basin runoff forecast to 29.1 million acre feet (MAF). That would be 113 percent of the 25.7 MAF average. It’s expected the reservoir system will be 3.7 MAF below the base of the flood control zone by the start of the 2024 runoff season on March 1.

Learn more about the drought.

League Participates in Missouri River Expo

I joined members of the Nebraska Division in the League’s booth at the 18th Missouri River Outdoor Expo in Ponca State Park near Ponca, NE. The event, which took place September 16-17, is one of the largest free outdoor expos in the Midwest. This year's Expo featured over 100 activities, including fishing, kayaking, archery, shooting, dog demonstrations, camping and outdoor cooking.

In our booth, we provided people with information about the League, and we helped kids and adults build over 620 birdfeeders. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission gave us items to hand out that inform people about how to prevent the spread of invasive species.

We thank the Izaak Walton League Endowment for a new grant to cover some of the expenses at this and other education and outreach events. Learn more about the Missouri River Outdoor Expo.

Help Prevent Invasive Species

A reminder to remain vigilant in preventing the spread of invasive species when you are hunting and fishing this fall. South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks confirmed that zebra mussels were found in Roy Lake in northeastern South Dakota. A property owner discovered the invasive mussel attached to a dock when it was removed from the water. More zebra mussels were found in the lake, so Roy is now considered infested water.

Remember to always clean, drain and dry all your equipment every time you come off the water. When you’re removing docks or boat lifts, report any unknown plant or animal to your state’s fish and game agency. Don’t be the one who spreads invasive species to another waterbody.

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Top photo: Sunflowers along the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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