News from the Missouri River Initiative: January 2024

Paul Lepisto
Winter 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 January.

Arctic Blast Slams the Basin

Following record warmth in December, winter arrived with a vengeance in the Missouri River basin and across much of the nation this month. Blizzard conditions were accompanied by extremely cold Arctic air, which resulted in many record lows. Temperatures finally moderated late in the month.

The El Niño system, which has been influencing the nation’s weather, will continue for several months before it’s expected to weaken this spring. The mountain snowpack in the upper basin is below average; however, more than half the mountain snowfall typically occurs from now to mid-April. See outlooks for the coming months.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that last year’s runoff, above Sioux City, totaled 30.4 million acre feet (MAF), which was 118 percent of average. For 2024 the Corps is forecasting 20.1 MAF or 78 percent of average. When the runoff season starts on March 1, the reservoir system is expected to be below the top of the carryover multiple use zone.

The Corps has posted the final Annual Operating Plan for the Missouri River for this year. Take a look.

Update on the Sediment Management Plan

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed the final report on Phase 2 of the Lewis and Clark Lake Sediment Management Plan. The Corps will move into Phase 3, which includes looking at potential alternatives to deal with the sediment in the lake. The Corps will host a public meeting to get input into the process.

Lewis and Clark, the smallest Missouri River reservoir, has lost over 30 percent of its capacity to sediment. If nothing is done, the reservoir will be unable to provide many of its benefits including recreation and hydropower production.

I’m on the board of the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC), which is partnering with the Corps on the development of the sediment management plan. Learn more.

Lower River Flood Study Makes Progress

On January 17, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided an update on the Lower Missouri River Flood Risk and Resiliency Study. This study was authorized after three historic floods (in 1993, 2011 and 2019) caused billions of dollars in damage in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. If we don't take any actions, that kind of damage will happen again.

The states are developing methods to reduce flood risk and improve the river’s resiliency. Over 90 sites are being evaluated for changes. Increasing resiliency and lowering flood risk could be accomplished with additional levee modifications.

The next update on the study will be on April 17. Learn more.

South Dakota Division Presents Habitat Awards

For 71 years, the Izaak Walton League's South Dakota Division has given awards to landowners for conserving or enhancing habitat. I presented one of the 2023 awards to Jim Feller at the Hughes County Conservation District meeting on January 10. The District nominated Feller for planting trees, enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and putting in pollinator and food plots, as well as for utilizing no-till methods and crop rotation to improve soil health on his land.

The South Dakota Division also recognized Kingsbury County landowner Ron Benson, who was nominated by the Kingsbury County Conservation District. Benson has seeded native grasses, planted shelterbelts, improved soil health, enrolled in CRP, secured a wetland easement, and put in food plots. Benson received the award from Doug Alvine and Jim Madsen of the League’s Kampeska Chapter. The conservation districts received a certificate of appreciation from the Division for the nominations.

Talking to Kids About the Missouri River

On January 10, I talked with three fifth-grade classes at Kennedy Elementary in Pierre, on the invitation of science teacher Lindsey Schilling. I informed the kids about the Missouri River’s history, endangered and invasive species, and the importance of keeping the river free of litter and trash. I encouraged the kids to be involved in litter and trash cleanups and to help with the Pierre-Fort Pierre Missouri River Cleanup in July.

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Top photo: Missouri River in winter. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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