News from the Missouri River Initiative: May 2024

Paul Lepisto
Boat on the 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 May.

Basin Runoff Increases

Higher-than-expected rainfall over portions of the Missouri River basin brought additional runoff into the reservoir system this month. That prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the 2024 runoff forecast to 19.2 million acre feet (MAF), which is 75 percent of average. The new forecast is 1.7 MAF higher than last month’s forecast. The precipitation raised the level of Lake Oahe. That will benefit fish reproduction.

Heavy rain hit eastern Nebraska and deadly tornados moved into central Iowa late this month. The rain caused localized flooding. The precipitation increased soil moisture levels in those areas; however, soil moisture is still below normal in other areas of the basin.

An El Niño system is expected to start influencing the nation’s weather by mid-summer. Forecasters report that multiple years of drought can’t be eliminated with only a few above-average rainfalls, but the recent precipitation is a step in the right direction.

Learn more about the drought.

Students Enjoy Successful School Festival

The 14th Missouri River Watershed School Festival, held on May 2 this year, was attended by 385 Nebraska and South Dakota high school students. The students were divided into groups, and each group attended seven of 20 presentations that were coordinated by the League. The presenters talked with the kids about the river and conserving our resources.

The festival, held in Riverside Park in Yankton, is extremely popular and is regarded as one of the top educational events in the area. Thanks to Fran Serr of the League's Yankton Chapter for his help at the event. Funding from the Gilchrist Foundation helped pay some of the festival expenses.

Yankton Cleanup Nets Over a Ton of Trash

The 18th Yankton Missouri River Cleanup was held on May 4. Ninety-eight volunteers collected 2,340 pounds (1.17 tons) of litter and trash. The total was higher than last year’s 1,560 pounds due to additional volunteers.

The National Park Service and other federal, state and local organizations, including the League, coordinated the cleanup. The event focused on the Missouri National Recreational River from Gavins Point Dam to downstream of Yankton. Funding from the Gilchrist Foundation helped with some of the cleanup expenses.

League Talks to Kids at Big Sioux Water Festival

Over 1,400 fifth-graders from 26 schools attended the 33rd Big Sioux Water Festival at South Dakota State University in Brookings on May 7. This is the oldest water festival in South Dakota. We talked with the kids about the importance of clean water and what they can do to help protect our water resources.

Thanks to Jeff Clow and Phil Langer of the League's Sioux Falls Chapter for their work at the event. Funding from the Izaak Walton League Endowment helped with some of the expenses at this festival.

Learn more about the festival.

Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo Is a Hit

A spectacular spring day brought people out to the Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo on May 11 in Kearney, NE. Over 2,300 people attended the event, which introduces families to outdoor activities. We talked with people about the League, and we helped kids and adults build over 250 bird feeders out of plastic bottles.

Thanks to Mike Gaghagen and Joe Menke of the League's Grand Island Chapter for their hard work. Funding from the Izaak Walton League Endowment helped with some of the expenses at this expo.

Learn more about the expo.

Corps Initiates Historic Test To Help Pallid Sturgeon

For the first time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting test flows from Fort Peck Dam in northeastern Montana. The purpose is to assess potential benefits to the endangered pallid sturgeon.

The flows began April 26 and include two releases. The first higher flow was run in early May. The second is scheduled in June. The flows are intended to attract, retain, and trigger spawning by pallids below Fort Peck Dam. The June test release could be modified depending on the amount of water in Fort Peck Lake.

The test releases are monitored to evaluate fish response and to assess any impacts to cultural resources, water quality, and other considerations. In monitoring of the first release, researchers tracked a tagged pallid sturgeon that is over 67 years old. Pallids can live 85-100 years.

Biologists hope the test releases will result in successful recruitment of pallids in the upper Missouri River. Due to the manmade changes on the river, no documented recruitment of pallid sturgeon has occurred in the upper basin for decades.

Learn more about the test flows.

Line Bin Project Update

Last spring the League built and installed 12 fishing line recycling bins with funds from the Gilchrist Foundation grant. The bins were placed near boat ramps and shore fishing areas along the Missouri River in Nebraska and South Dakota.

The purpose of this project is to provide a way for anglers to safely dispose of used fishing line to keep it out of the river and the environment. Monofilament line is estimated to last over 600 years and is a danger to wildlife if not properly disposed.

Thanks to Fran Serr of the League's Yankton Chapter for his help in emptying the bins this spring. The collected line was cleaned up and sent to be recycled.

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Top photo: A small boat on the Missouri River. Photo credits: Paul Lepisto.

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