News from the Missouri River Initiative: March 2024

Paul Lepisto
Rocks and driftwood - 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 March.

Basin Runoff Remains Low

Runoff in the upper Missouri River basin continues to be below average. This winter ranked as the warmest on record for the contiguous U.S. February ranked as the warmest on record, and it also ranked as the third-driest ever recorded. The warm temperatures caused an early melt of the less-than-average plains and mountain snowpack.

Runoff above Sioux City is predicted to be 17 million acre feet (MAF). That would be only 66 percent of the average. The March estimate is down from February’s 18.8 MAF. The runoff forecast is based on soil moisture, snowpack and long-term outlooks. Snow drought in areas of the West improved, but northern Wyoming and western Montana are still in snow drought. Learn more about the mountain snowpack.

In the lower basin, severe weather hit areas of Kansas and Missouri. Areas of Iowa remain very dry. The National Weather Service issued several red flag warnings due to high winds, extremely dry vegetation, unseasonably warm temperatures and low humidity. A couple of systems brought rain and snow to areas of the basin late in the month.

How the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will manage the river and reservoirs with the expected low runoff was discussed during the Annual Operating Plan (AOP) meetings held in the upper basin late in the month. I attended the March 27 meeting in Fort Pierre. Lower basin meetings will be held in April. We’ll submit comments on the Corps’ planned 2024 operation of the Missouri River System in the coming days.

League Educates Kids at Water Festival

Over 2,300 fourth-graders attended the Sioux Empire Water Festival and learned about the importance of water quality. Members of the Sioux Falls Chapter and I participated in the event, which was held at the University of Sioux Falls March 12-13.

The Sioux Falls Ikes have been involved in 29 of the 31 festivals held. This year we talked with the kids about the Save Our Streams program, Nitrate Watch and Salt Watch, the importance of wetlands, and how to avoid spreading invasive species. Thanks to Jeff Clow, Phil Langer and John Monahan for their work at the festival this year.

Learn more.

MRRIC Releases Annual Report

The Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) has released their annual report. The report, compiled by the committee’s Communication Work Group, recaps the activities from fiscal year 2023.

I have represented the League on MRRIC since the committee was formed in October 2008. Review the report.

Corps Will Test Sediment Collector

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will install a small sediment collector in the Niobrara River this summer. This test will help determine the amount of sediment coming into Lewis and Clark Lake and if there are potential uses for the sediment.

Preventing sediment from getting into the reservoir was one option proposed during Phase 2 of the Sediment Management Plan. The landmark management plan is a partnership between the Corps and the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC).

I serve on MSAC’s board. The collector will be installed this summer as a pilot project. Learn more about MSAC and the sediment plan.

South Dakota Legislative Session Concludes

South Dakota’s 99th legislative session is over. I lobbied for the South Dakota Division again this session. The Division tracked 26 bills and one resolution.

Eight Ike members make up the legislative committee that determines the Division’s approach to legislation. The Division supported creation of a license plate to fund habitat, repairs to several dams, funding for water and stormwater projects, and initiatives recognizing the importance of shelterbelts and grasslands.

Thanks to Kelly Kistner, Mark Boddicker, Jim Madsen, Chuck Clayton, Doug Alvine, Larry Jirava, Jay Davis and Paula Bosco Damon for their work on the committee this session. Learn more about the SD session.

Missouri-Mississippi Job Opportunity

American Rivers, a frequent partner of the League, is searching for someone to direct their new Central Regional Program. The program includes river management issues and will have an increased presence in the Missouri River basin.

The new director of the Central Regional Program will work to restore, protect, and advocate for clean water and healthy rivers. The person selected will manage American Rivers' Mississippi and Missouri River projects. Learn more.

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Top photo: Driftwood on the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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