The League was asked to testify at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on Missouri River Management this month. Senator Mike Rounds – who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight – held the field hearing August 22 in Pierre. The hearing focused on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management of the Missouri River.
The League was the only non-governmental organization invited to testify at the hearing. We were asked to testify by ranking member Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). In his testimony Paul Lepisto, IWLA Regional Conservation Coordinator, focused on Missouri River recovery. He asked the Corps to do much more habitat restoration on the river, echoing comments the League submitted earlier this year on the proposed alternatives in the new Missouri River Recovery Management Plan. We specifically asked the Corps to consider allowing the river, in selected areas, to heal itself, which will create self-sustaining populations of native fish and wildlife, reduce flood risk, improve water quality, and increase recreational opportunities. We also requested more flexibility in the Corps’ management of the river, including in-season reservoir water storage checks rather than setting release rates from dams months ahead of when actual runoff is realized. Read the full details of the League’s written and oral testimony.
In other testimony, Pierre, South Dakota, Mayor Steve Harding testified about the city’s attempt to withdraw water from the Missouri River to irrigate park areas adjacent to the river, stating that the Corps’ permitting process for this is difficult. Jeanne Goodman from the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources also testified that the Corps’ proposal to charge for withdrawing water from reservoirs puts more than 90 percent of the river off limits to water users. The proposal to charge for stored water is currently undergoing a rulemaking process.
Senator Rounds asked Corps representative David Ponganis why the Corps has not requested federal appropriations for a more extensive monitoring network to accurately evaluate the amount of annual runoff in the basin. Such a network has been included in several pieces of legislation since the historic 2011 Missouri River flood but has not been included in the Corp’s annual operating budget. Ponganis said he hopes that funding will be included in the Corps’ Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Rounds also questioned Ponganis about this year’s large fluctuations in Lake Sharpe in central South Dakota. Ponganis said that it was due to the Corps evacuating above-average snowpack runoff and to meet high electrical demand from Oahe Dam north of Pierre. Rounds expressed concerns about the impacts of the large fluctuations on local residents and fish and wildlife populations.