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Missouri Lawmakers Continue to Fight Missouri River Spring Rise Plan

October 26, 2005
By: Katie Peterson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's congressional delegation plans to continue to fight the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers latest draft to induce two Missouri River spring rises in order to revive an endangered fish.

The draft is the latest in an ongoing debate among interests since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various environmental groups advocated for flow changes around 1990.

U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-MO said, "We are going to continue fighting this. We are not going to give up. We are going to stop this at some point down the road."

Talent said there needs to be a balance of issues among the interests involved in the spring rise. "It is not all one thing or all another. We are asking for a balanced approach that does not all go one way to the pallid sturgeon," Talent said.

The U.S. Army of Corps Engineers released a draft Monday planning to induce two Spring rises - one in mid-March and another in mid-May - hoping to induce spawning of the endangered pallid sturgeon Spokesman for the Corps of Engineers Paul Johnston said. The rise will be used to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Johnston said the two flows the corps will induce coincide with the historical ebb and flow of the river. "The first flow was historically when the snow on the plains melted and moved down the river and the second pulse was the melting snow from the mountains as it came down the streams," Johnston said.

"Fish have adapted to that kind of flow regimen, which is why biologists believe that is what we need for a spawning cue," he said.

But some Missouri lawmakers and agriculture interests argue the science behind the decision is not sufficient. Chief Administrative Officer of the Missouri Farm Bureau Dan Cassidy said there needs to be more science and monitoring. "What the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have prescribed is an experiment on private property," he said. Cassidy said that such spring rises threaten to flood farmers crops and as a result threaten people's livelihood.

However, Johnston said there is a low risk to farmers. "We think the combination of the shorter duration of the release compared to earlier proposed plans and the flood control restraints that have been in place for a number of years, makes the increased risk to farmers minimal," he said. Earlier plans had one peak flow of two weeks. The current draft has peak flows of two days.

According to Johnston, there will be an evaluation program in place to monitor the biological response of the fish to the flows. But the effectiveness of the rise will take time to determine because there are 800 miles of river to monitor.

The corps will be hosting public meetings about the plan on Nov. 15-16 in Kansas City, St. Louis and Jefferson City. Johnston said the corps will take public comment for possible alterations to the draft, but will continue with the spring rises as long as the reservoir levels in Montana and the Dakotas are not too low. The final plan is expected to be released in late December.

Johnston said the corps plans to continue the two Spring rises in the future under the same conditions.