Spring 2015 Update

Missouri River Issues Update

Spring 2015


Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC):  MRRIC efforts during 2014 focused on the Missouri River Recovery Management Plan (MRRMP) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.  This process will likely influence river operations for several decades.  Its conclusion is scheduled for summer 2016. Test alternatives (potential precursors to final alternatives) will be discussed and analyzed throughout 2015.  The Independent Science Advisory Panel (ISAP) and the Independent Social and Economic Technical Review (ISETR) teams will continue to provide third party technical oversight of science and economic processes associated with the MRRMP/ EIS.  Both panels have been well received by stakeholders and have raised the level of credibility of the efforts thus far.  Potential alternatives of most interest to our membership relate to impacts associated with increased flooding and inland drainage issues, lower flows that would adversely impact navigation, water supply and/or quality issues and land acquisition impacts related to habitat development.


BiOp Spring Rise:  The MRRIC’s ISAP released a 2011 report that determined the manmade spring rises were not meeting any of their expected outcomes as outlined in the 2003 Amended Biological Opinion.  As a result of this report and the MRRMP/EIS process being currently underway, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed not to conduct a spring rise in 2015.


Congressional Action:  Lower Basin House delegates led by Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO) were successful in 2015 CRomnibus Appropriations with another funding prohibition for the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan (MRERP).  Though the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS) didn’t include a funding prohibition, the conference report language stated, “The agreement includes neither support for nor a prohibition on funding for the study.”  Similar language was included in the Fiscal Year (FY) ‘14 appropriations report that resulted in no MRAPS funding.  As a result, no funding was provided for MRAPS in FY ’15.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt was successful with the inclusion of a Missouri River Study in the bipartisan Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016. The bill included a “Report Reconciling Maintenance and Operational Priorities on the Missouri River”.

No later than one year after the law is enacted, the Coast Guard will provide a report outlining a course of action to reconcile general maintenance priorities for cutters with operational priorities on the Missouri River.  River maintenance issues related to buoys and channel marking have been an ongoing concern with navigators and precipitated this study.


Western Water Demands:  The State of Kansas continues to discuss its 50-year water plan which includes potential construction of a 360-mile concrete aqueduct to transfer water from the Missouri River, ostensibly in high water years, to southwest Kansas.  Though the $18 billion price tag associated with the infrastructure is astronomical, discussions continue due to the ongoing decline of the aquifers feeding the irrigated farmland in southwest Kansas.

Corps’ officials estimate aqueduct construction would take 20 years and cost $12.2 billion plus $5.8 billion in interest.  In addition, operation costs are estimated at $1 billion per year. These costs don’t include permitting costs or restoring habitat losses as a result of the project.  Both could significantly increase the overall cost.

Opposition to the project is high in the portions of Kansas where 19,000 acres would be used to construct a 13,000 acre reservoir to hold diverted water.  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has said that Ogallala Aquifer storage could be nearly 70 percent spent in 50 years if nothing changes.  Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called the project “ill-advised” in November 2013 and “hare-brained” in his January 2015 State of the State Address.


Missouri River Surplus Water and Reallocation Study:  The Corps is in the process of completing simultaneous actions that will impact municipal and industrial water supply users throughout the Basin. Those actions include the Surplus Water Reports and Environmental Assessments and the Water Reallocation Study.

In May 2010, the Corps was directed to complete six surplus water reports, one for each of the Missouri River Mainstem reservoirs. The Garrison Dam/Lake Sakakawea report was finalized on July 18, 2012.  The remaining five reports were publicly released in August 2012. When completed, the surplus water studies will allow the Corps to enter into temporary, short-term agreements for up to 10 years for the use of surplus water.

The Corps was also directed to complete the Water Reallocation Study.  This study examined whether some amount of the storage included in the Missouri River Mainstem reservoirs may be permanently allocated to municipal and industrial water supply. The study also examined the effects of the reallocation on the authorized purposes and operation of the reservoirs.

According to a Corps’ September 2012 news release, “One of the key differences between the Surplus Water Reports and the Reallocation Study is that the Reallocation Study, when complete, will allow the Corps to enter into water storage agreements on a permanent basis.”

The final Reallocation Study report is expected to be released this summer.


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