News from the Missouri River Initiative: November 2023

Paul Lepisto
Blue sky reflecting in 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 November.

Committee Receives Recovery Updates

Members of the Independent Science Advisory Panel (ISAP), technical experts, and the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) attended the virtual U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fall Science Meetings and Bird and Fish Team Meetings in November. The purpose of the webinars was to share preliminary results of research and monitoring and for technical discussions between scientists.

Observations for the endangered pallid sturgeon and the threatened piping plover, although not yet peer-reviewed or published, were provided. Researchers reported the highest number of adult piping plovers along the Missouri River since monitoring began over 20 years ago. However, reproduction was down this year due to rising reservoir levels and predation.

Biologists find it encouraging that pallid sturgeon are using the Yellowstone River bypass channel around Intake Dam in the upper basin. They also noted that 2021 and 2022 were “good” spawning years for pallids in the lower Missouri River. More research is needed in both areas to better understand what this may mean for recovery efforts.

More information on this year’s research will be given at the MRRIC meeting December 4-7 in Omaha, and at the Adaptive Management Workshop next spring. Some of the research data will also be included in the congressionally required Adaptive Management Compliance Report, which the Corps will release early next year.

Basin Gets Additional Runoff

Above-average precipitation over parts of the upper Missouri River basin has added runoff into the Missouri River above Sioux City this fall. However, drought conditions are expected to continue at least through January. Drought impacts continue in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. Since this has been a multi-year drought, several widespread major snow or rain events are needed to make significant improvements across the basin.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects water stored in the Missouri River reservoir system to be below normal at the start of the 2024 runoff season. Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe are predicted to be four to five feet below the base of the flood control zones on March 1. Learn more.

League Comments on River Plan

The League submitted comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Draft Annual Operating Plan (AOP) for the Missouri River Reservoir System. The AOP outlines management scenarios for the system, depending on the amount of runoff received next year above Sioux City.

Our comments ranged from supporting management for recreational access and fish spawning to urging the Corps to deal with sediment and invasive species. The Corps will review the comments they receive and then issue a Final AOP by the end of the year.

Read our comments on the AOP.

'Tis the Season... for Event Planning

Spring is a long way off, but progress is underway on the 2024 Missouri River events in Yankton. I’ve been working with the National Park Service, Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River, and other federal, state and local organizations to coordinate the events.

The Missouri River Watershed School Festival will be on May 2, the Missouri River Cleanup is May 4, and Homestead Day is June 8. These events increase people’s awareness and appreciation of the Missouri River and our resources. A lot of help is needed at each event. Look for more details on the Yankton area events early next year.

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Top photo: Blue sky reflecting in the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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