2004 News Releases

2004 Index

October 6, 2004 – Bi-Partisan Missouri and Mississippi River Congressional Delegates Seek Removal of Burns’ Provision

June 25, 2004 – Federal Agencies Succeed with Construction of 1200 Acres of Shallow-Water Fish Habitat

June 22, 2004 – Minnesota Federal Court Upholds Federal Agency Claims

March 19, 2004 – Missouri River Master Manual Review and Update Reaches Milestone

Feb. 27, 2004 – AGRICULTURE, NAVIGATION AND UTILITIES RECEIVE MAJOR SETBACKS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 6, 2004

Bi-Partisan Missouri and Mississippi River Congressional Delegates Seek Removal of Burns’ Provision

HIGBEE, Mo. – Thirty-four bi-partisan congressional delegates from ten Missouri and Mississippi River states sought removal of Senator Conrad Burns’ (R-MT) controversial provision to raise the Missouri River reservoir level preclude – a level at which Missouri River navigation would cease – from 31 million-acre-feet (MAF) to 40 MAF from the Fiscal Year 2005 Interior Appropriations bill last Friday.

In an October 1 letter to the Honorable C. W. Bill Young and David Obey, Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, and the Honorable Charles Taylor and Norman Dicks, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Interior, the delegates stated, “We are writing in opposition to Section 338 of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 Interior Appropriations bill. The inclusion of this provision will have a detrimental effect on those who live and work within the Lower Missouri River Basin.”

The Missouri River Master Manual – a document that took 15 years to finalize – had already raised the navigation preclude by 10 MAF from 21 MAF to 31 MAF – a level that substantially benefited Montana and other Upper Basin States at the expense of Lower Basin States.

The Burns’ provision would prematurely limit critical flows to the lower Missouri River Basin over what the newly revised Master Manual mandated and would have an adverse economic impact on communities in the Lower Missouri River Basin and Mississippi River Basin.

Burns’ measure would terminate Missouri River navigation in 2005 as reservoirs already stand at 36 MAF due to ongoing drought conditions.  Regional economies dependent on Missouri River navigation would stand to lose between $77 and $203 million in revenues.

Regarding Mississippi River impacts, the delegates declared, “A low water advisory has already been issued for Mississippi River navigation due to low rainfall in that basin.  Substantially lower flows on the Missouri River would further exacerbate the issue, potentially suspending Mississippi River commerce – the “backbone” of the Midwest economy – as early as October 2004.

“During the 1988 drought, the Missouri River provided 88 percent of Middle Mississippi River flows between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.  To put this in context, its normal contribution in dry years averages approximately 60 percent.”

Burns’ provision would also initiate non-navigation flows that would reduce spring and fall Gavins Point Dam releases to levels that would adversely impact municipal water suppliers and utilities. Many of the power plants that use river water for cooling would likely be forced to shut down under summer conditions.

In September 2004, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) simulated minimum releases from Gavins Point Dam equivalent to the non-navigation releases associated with this provision.

Simulation of these minimum releases produced expected economic damages to power plants of 128.7 million dollars.  FAPRI estimated a 20 percent chance of economic damages to power plants exceeding 196.6 million dollars and a 10 percent chance of damages exceeding 527 million dollars.

While blackouts or rolling blackouts would be difficult to precisely predict, the stress on the power transmission system would be significant when annual summer economic damages exceed 100 million dollars.  Simulated minimal summer releases from Gavins Point indicated economic damages exceeding 100 million dollars would occur 37 percent of the time.

The delegates also found it interesting that Burns’ provision could supercede various environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act as they relate to water releases.

They stated, “The very laws that Upper Basin states previously cited as essential to conserve species along the river are now being ignored to preserve recreation activity in the Upper Basin under the pretense of ‘sharing the pain.’”

They concluded, “Missouri River navigation has ‘shared the pain’ of this drought by operating at minimum service levels throughout the last few years. Moreover, their 2004 operating season will terminate 46-days early under the recently revised Master Manual drought conservation measures.

“Lower Basin States cannot withstand the loss of any more water.  This provision lacks any sense of equity and neglects the vital needs of thousands.”

“Our hats go off to Senator “Kit” Bond (R-MO) for his Senate leadership on our behalf regarding this issue and to Congressmen Sam Graves (R-MO) and Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) for spearheading this letter effort.” stated Randy Asbury, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River. “We are also grateful for the strong bi-partisan House support on this issue as lead by Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO).”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2004

Federal Agencies Succeed with Construction of 1200 Acres of Shallow-Water Fish Habitat

HIGBEE, Mo. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today announced the successful construction of 1200-plus acres of Missouri River shallow-water habitat (SWH) for the endangered pallid sturgeon. SWH construction was a key recommendation of the 2003 Amended Biological Opinion and this accomplishment ensures the maintenance of sufficient river flows to sustain minimum navigation service levels throughout this summer.

“It’s exciting to see a successful conclusion to a joint effort between the Corps and the Service,” stated Randy Asbury, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River. “It’s especially encouraging to see this win-win announcement as it relates to meeting the needs of all authorized uses while assisting the pallid with its needs.”

“Today’s announcement proves that the Missouri can be managed for both economic and environmental interests. We appreciate the efforts of the President, Senator Bond and federal agency personnel who worked diligently to accomplish this feat. It’s our hope that this will be a steppingstone toward many future cooperative achievements on the Missouri River.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 22, 2004

Minnesota Federal Court Upholds Federal Agency Claims

HIGBEE, Mo. – In a much anticipated court ruling regarding  Missouri River operations management, Judge Paul A. Magnuson, a Minnesota federal court judge, upheld federal agency claims. Magnuson’s decision essentially  upheld the recently revised Missouri River Master Manual, the 2004 Annual Operating Plan and the 2003 Amended Biological Opinion including the construction of 1200 acres of shallow-water habitat as a means to avoid lower summer flows.

One decision reserved for another day was Blaske Marine’s and MO-ARK’s claim that the Nebraska Plan – a default plan to be implemented if a spring rise flow is not in place by 2006 – may not be implemented without further study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“This ruling, along with the overall Master Manual process, provides our stakeholders with momentum and reason to stay engaged in river management decisions into the future,” stated Randy Asbury, executive director for the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River.

“The reliability so necessary for economic interests to prosper must be restored though it’s clear that it is still in question as a result of this decision.”

The more favorable portions of the ruling included Magnuson’s denial of American Rivers’ claim to return to and enforce the 2000 Biological Opinion with its low summer flows of 21,000 cubic-feet-per-second from Gavins Point – flow levels that would create a split navigation season and adverse municipal water and electrical generation supply impacts.

Moreover, Magnuson also ruled against South Dakota stating that, “requiring South Dakota to build extensions for irrigation lines or drinking water is not in ‘conflict’ with South Dakota’s beneficial consumptive uses, because there is no destruction or denial of their water rights.” In essence, Upper Basin needs do not take precedence over the needs of the Lower Basin.

It is not yet known if the Magnuson decision will be appealed. The Missouri River management battle began in 1988 as Upper Basin States lobbied the Corps to address low reservoir levels during a critical drought. That began a protracted process that recently concluded on March 19 with the issuance of a new Missouri River Master Manual – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ guidance document for river operations.

It is also anticipated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will issue their decision on the Corps’ construction of 1200-plus acres of shallow-water habitat any day. A Service approval would allow navigation flow support to be maintained at minimum service levels throughout the summer.

Asbury concluded, “Notwithstanding this ruling, the Eighth Circuit affirmed that flood control and navigation are dominant functions of the river in June ’03. Our members don’t intend to let the Corps and Congress forget the importance of those authorized uses to the Lower Basin.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 19, 2004

Missouri River Master Manual Review and Update Reaches Milestone

HIGBEE, Mo. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released its Record of Decision, a new Missouri River Master Manual – the guidance document for river operations – and a final 2004 Annual Operating Plan today after 15 years of debate and battle over the future of Missouri River management operations.

“We have reached a milestone today with this Corps’ announcement,” stated Randy Asbury, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River. “What was projected to be a three-year process has finally concluded and we now enter a new phase of deliberation.”

Asbury referred to the likelihood that a new phase of wrangling will likely occur in the courts.

“It appears few were pleased with the final outcome of this process,” stated Asbury.  “We were especially unhappy that included in the decision were a spring rise beginning in 2006, summer low flows adverse to navigation and water supply, drought conservation measures that transfer inordinate amounts of water to the Upper Basin and excessive flexibility given to the Corps to modify future river operations through adaptive management.

“Regrettably, the reliability we so desperately needed restored to the river just didn’t happen and the stakeholders we represent will likely bear the burden of that result.”

The Missouri River review and update began in the late 1980s when drought settled over the Upper Missouri River Basin states.  The drought spread to the Lower Basin and lasted until spring of 1993.  Upper Basin governors lobbied the Corps to change its Missouri River management plan calling for the release of less water to keep reservoir levels higher to support lake infrastructure and recreational
interests. 

The Corps responded with a Master Manual review that culminated in the release of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement and
Preferred Alternative (including spring rise and split navigation flows) in 1994.  Lower Basin states voiced great opposition to the Corps’ Preferred Alternative citing adverse flood control, inland drainage and navigation consequences that were unacceptable. 

In December 2000, a jeopardy Biological Opinion (BiOp) released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stated that three species – the interior least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon – were  threatened or endangered and demanded Master Manual changes to address their needs.  Another BiOp was released in December 2003 which held that proposed river operations would continue to jeopardize the
pallid sturgeon.

Asbury concluded, “Though there is still much work to be accomplished as we move past today, we express our appreciation to the state and national leaders who stood with us as we sought to address these issues.

“Their bi-partisan support was greatly valued and we look forward to working with them in the coming days to bring balance and common sense to Missouri River management.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 27, 2004

AGRICULTURE, NAVIGATION AND UTILITIES RECEIVE MAJOR SETBACKS

Administration Delivers Spring Rise, Split Navigation Seasons and Transfer of Water to Upper Basin

HIGBEE, Mo. – The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers released three major documents today regarding future operation of the Missouri River.  The “Final Draft 2004 Master Manual,” the “Draft Final 2004 AOP,” and the “Final Environmental Impact Statement” were made available after 15 years of wrangling in the Missouri River Basin over how to manage the river into the next decades.

“We were extremely disappointed to see the Administration failed to safeguard the Lower Basin from the potential of man-made floods and the ultimate loss of navigation – a transportation mode so valuable to farmers and industry,” stated Randy Asbury, executive director of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River. 

“It’s ridiculous that common sense can’t seem to prevail in this issue.  Stakeholders continue to be bludgeoned by an Endangered Species Act (ESA) that has done little to improve the condition of ESA-listed species, yet continues to wreak havoc on private interests caught in its grasp.

“Farmers, navigators on both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, shippers and utilities – both electric and water – will lose with these announcements. Moreover, it is frustrating to see such a wholesale transfer of water to the Upper Basin at the expense of every downstream interest.  Nothing in these documents hints of balance.”

The voluminous documents contain much detail that has yet to be uncovered as of this writing.  It is known, however, that much of the contents are based on the results of the 2003 Amended Biological Opinion (BiOp) released on December 16 by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Most notably, the BiOp indicated that the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative purportedly necessary to offset pallid sturgeon jeopardy would include the most contentious management features of recent discussions – a spring rise and split navigation season.

The BiOp rendered, for all practical purposes, the Missouri River an unreliable mode of transportation for 2004 and wholly conflicted with the Eighth Circuit Court ruling that flood control and navigation are dominant functions of the river. 

“To add insult to injury, the courts reduced the public comment period on these documents from thirty days to fourteen days,” stated Asbury.  “It will be impossible for stakeholders to properly review and analyze the reams of information in that timeframe. 

“Today, the three branches of our government failed miserably to protect the citizens they were created to represent.”

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