News from the Missouri River Initiative: April 2024

Paul Lepisto
Rocky shoreline - 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 April.

Basin Runoff Improves, But Remains Low

The latest Upper Missouri River basin runoff forecast shows a bit of improvement. But the lack of plains snow and a mountain snowpack that’s among the lowest in 30 years are expected to result in low runoff into the system again this year. April’s forecast predicts runoff of 17.5 million acre feet (MAF), or 68 percent of average, which is slightly higher than the 17.0 MAF predicted in March.

Over 60 percent of the basin is in drought. A late April storm system brought severe weather, including tornados and heavy rain. Still, above-average precipitation is needed over an extended period for soil moisture to fully recover. Forecasters are predicting an end to El Niño and a switch to La Niña by mid-summer. A La Niña typically means a hot, dry summer for the basin.

Learn more about the drought.

Corps Implements Test Flow for Pallid Sturgeon

For the first time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a test flow from Fort Peck Dam in northeastern Montana. A spillway release is being done to assess benefits for the endangered pallid sturgeon.

There hasn’t been any documented recruitment of pallids in the upper basin since the dams were constructed decades ago. The test releases are scheduled to run into May. If water levels permit, a second added release will be run in June.

The test flow will be monitored to see if it attracts, retains, and triggers spawning of pallids below the dam. Fish response, physical resources, cultural resources and water quality will be monitored.

The test flow is required in the 2018 Biological Opinion. The flow wasn't conducted earlier due to the lack of water in the upper basin.

The Corps is providing weekly updates on the test flows on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. Central. Learn more.

League Submits Comments on River Management

The League submitted comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2024 Management of the Missouri River Reservoir System. The comments followed the Corps’ spring meetings, which were held across the basin. Reservoir storage recovered a bit last fall, but the dry winter forced the Corps to continue water conservation measures this spring.

In the comments we urged the Corps to raise the levels of Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe reservoirs this spring, if possible, to enhance game and forage fish spawn. The rise seems highly unlikely given the lack of runoff this year. We asked the Corps to work with the upper basin states to maintain recreational access as reservoir pool levels decline.

Read our comment letter.

League Hosts Farm Bill Summit

Last year the League and the National Wildlife Federation partnered on four Farm Bill summits in the Midwest, including one in Sioux Falls. The goal of these summits was to get ag and conservation groups together to develop conservation priorities and find ways to build congressional support for those priorities. Instead of passing a new bill, Congress extended the 2018 Farm Bill through September 30.

On April 15, we held a virtual Farm Bill summit. Many of the same ag and conservation groups from the previous summits returned to hear updates on legislative negotiations and timelines, and to discuss how we can influence the language in the new Farm Bill.

The League is working to get water quality, soil health, and other conservation measures into the new bill. Learn more and take action.

Upcoming Events

Springtime means event time, and the League will be involved in several in the coming weeks.

The 14th Missouri River Watershed School Festival is in Yankton on May 2. About 400 high school students are expected. They will learn about the river and conserving our resources.

The 18th Yankton Missouri River Cleanup is May 4. I’m working with the National Park Service and other organizations to coordinate the event. Pre-register here.

The Big Sioux Water Festival is in Brookings on May 7. About 1,200 fifth-graders are expected. Members of the Sioux Falls Chapter and I will talk to the students about the importance of clean water and how they can help protect water resources. Learn more.

The Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo is May 11 in Kearney, NE. Members of the Nebraska Division and I will help introduce people to the outdoors and talk about the League’s conservation programs. Learn more.

If you have questions about any of the events or if you want to help, email me at

South Dakota Division Comments on Action Plans

Finally, I worked with members of the League's South Dakota Division on comments to the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department (GFP) on two wildlife action plans. The Division submitted comments on draft pheasant and deer action plans. We urged GFP to work with landowners to enhance habitat and provide additional public hunting access.

Read the comment letter about pheasants.

Read the comment letter about deer.

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Top photo: A rocky shoreline along the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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