U.S. Water News Online
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- A suggestion to tinker with the
downstream navigation season as a means of saving water in the
drought-affected Missouri River reservoirs was left high and dry.
At a recent meeting of Missouri River states, Gov. Mike Rounds
proposed changing how and when water is released for the downstream
barge industry in order to keep more in the reservoirs and avoid a
"navigational preclude" that's part of the Army Corps of Engineers'
master manual for operating the dams and reservoirs.
When storage in the six reservoirs drops to 31 million acre feet
(maf), the corps will be required to save water in the reservoirs.
Discharges would be too small to float barges downriver.
The system now has a record low 35 million acre feet of water,
compared to 57 maf normally. Based on current snowpack conditions and
projected runoff, the corps and others acknowledge the 31 maf trigger
is almost a certainty in the summer of 2006 and likely in 2007.
Rounds argued that holding back some water this year might be
enough to avoid the trigger next year.
With Missouri's representative voicing the most opposition to
that, Rounds was able only to get agreement that the governors would
work on a resolution encouraging the corps to conserve water whenever
Much of the day's discussion revealed familiar themes -- upstream
states with the reservoirs want more water kept in the lakes for
recreation and domestic water supplies, while downstream states want
a steady flow for navigation, to cool power plants and for their
municipal water systems.
The navigational preclude may be an advantage for upper basin
states, said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, who backed Rounds'
"We may build up (reservoir levels) faster by just following the
manual then actually what Mike is proposing, although I think Mike is
making a good-faith effort to say, `Hey, let's learn from the past,
let's conserve water, this affects everybody."
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer
also attended. The governors of Missouri, Kansas and Iowa sent
Ron Kucera, of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said
changing the flow schedule now would interfere with contracts already
signed to haul fertilizer, asphalt and other products by barge this
spring and summer.
"Our businesses, our farmers, need reliability and certainty (with
water flows) and thought when we got a new master manual -- even if
they didn't like it -- it would have some reliability and certainty,"
There were presentations throughout the day illustrating how low
water levels in the reservoir and low flows below Sioux City, Iowa
affect fish reproduction, recreation and intakes that carry water to
drinking water systems or power plant cooling systems.
Charles Murphy, chairman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation
in North Dakota and South Dakota, said low water on Lake Oahe led to
siltation clogging the intake pipes on a water system. Schools,
hospitals, businesses and 10,000 people were without water.
The tribe spent $3 million for a quick fix, to shuttle the elderly
and hospital patients, and for temporary toilets.
"People suffered and they don't want this crisis again," Murphy
Emergency pumping systems for power plants and water systems can
take years to design and build at a cost that generally is passed on
to the consumer, said Darrell Dorsey, of the Kansas City Board of
Rounds and Hoeven frequently pointed out that low-water problems
in their states will spread to downstream states at the 31 maf
When downriver flows are low enough, power producers "will take it
in the shorts," Rounds said.
"I did not realize that the persuasion of the barge industry would
be greater than perhaps the persuasive discussion or points made by
the power producing organizations or a whole lot of consumers in the
lower basin," he told Kucera.
He intimated later that this may be the only time for compromise.
"I will tell you that it will be our (South Dakota) position that
should we not find compromise on this issue this year, when preclude
occurs next year we will most certainly ask that it be fully enforced
in an effort to conserve water for the following year," Rounds said.
Schweitzer said the worry in his state is that with two years of
low flow from the 31 maf trigger, downstream states will argue they
aren't getting their share of water and will make it a political
fight in Washington.
"We know preclude is not a good place to go politically,"
Schweitzer said. "We know there's a master manual and some
highfaluting folks worked on this for a dozen years and now it's all
cast in concrete, but when folks don't have water to drink in big
cities it becomes a big problem, not a little problem like it is when
its 10,000 people on an Indian reservation in North or South Dakota,"
Earlier, Wayne Nelson-Stastny with the South Dakota Department of
Game, Fish and Parks said there is below-normal snowdepth in the
mountains and plains, and below-normal moisture content in what snow
is on the ground.
"The basin is really entrenched in a pretty significant drought
right now," he said.
the U.S. Water News' past archives pag
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.