Our river in court
A lot of rain fell in the lower
Missouri River Basin this spring. At the same time, the upper basin states
(the Dakotas and Montana) endure a multi-year drought. They had
little snow this winter so there was no run off to fill their near-empty
reservoirs. In addition, their normal spring rains never came. Their drought
Managing river flows from the
source of the Missouri River in Montana to the Mississippi above St. Louis
and down to the Gulf of Mexico is a tricky business. About the time we
think we have a river management plan that will suit everyone, something
Take this year for example.
After managing drought on the upper river and floods on the lower basin,
it was announced that El Niño is expected to revisit us this winter.
Its a lead pipe cinch that river flows wont be normal again
The upper basin earthen dams
and reservoirs built 50 years ago brought great economic growth to the
Plains states. The benefits of flood control, recreation, hydroelectricity
and irrigation were instant and continuing.
Marinas sprang up on the lakes.
Fish hatcheries expanded and families came from afar to enjoy fishing
and recreation. Environmentally clean hydroelectricity spurred economic
development. Flood control saved billions in avoided damage. Irrigation
and a pure source for community water systems are considered priceless.
In addition to all that, taxpayers across the country benefit when annual
revenues from these projects flow into the federal treasury annually.
Twain wrote, 'The river is a wonderful book with a new story every
day.' Twain would probably want the folks of the Missouri River
Basin to write a new story for our book."
The environmental and ecological
interests as well as the agricultural, recreational, power production,
flood control and navigational interests must be fairly weighed in a comprehensive
river management plan. Through continual annual struggles, we never seem
to accomplish that.
Public meetings to discuss
and mollify the needs and wants of the varied interest groups become shouting
matches. Governors stake out positions to garner positive headlines for
themselves. Their individual state lawsuits and public statements become
self-serving. They choose not to offer their leadership to work out a
comprehensive management plan.
A recent Nebraska news story
reported that the fight over managing the flow of the Missouri River broadened
this spring when the governor of that state filed a lawsuit asking the
Corps of Engineers to release water from Montanas Fort Peck reservoir
for navigation. The governor of South Dakota filed an earlier federal
lawsuit seeking to prevent the Corps from lowering water levels on the
upper river basin until after the fish eggs have hatched!
Mark Twain wrote, The
river is a wonderful book with a new story every day. Author Twain
would probably want the folks of the Missouri River Basin to write a new
story for our book. The latest chapter would be about a comprehensive
management plan that everyone would support. The constant maligning of
our great river by the governors and the courts would mercifully end.
Will Rogers might suggest that
such an achievement was pure common sense.
Stork was executive
vice president of the Association of Missouri
Electric Cooperatives and a member of Three Rivers Electric Co-op.