The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week came out with a new plan to manage the Missouri River, and was handed a court victory over some of its critics. Corps spokesman Paul Johnston says the threatened and endangered birds along the river’s bank have been thriving the past two years, and engineers have a plan to help them even more. On a number of reaches along the river, he says the Corps wants to build “sand habitat” for a couple of the endangered birds, the “least tern” and the piping plover. Those stretches of the Missouri River include several miles south of the Gavin’s Point dam, along the South Dakota – Nebraska – Iowa borders. Those are all well-established nesting areas for the terns and plovers, he says, where the agency’s looking for ways to build habitat that’ll offer haven for the birds while also allowing it to manage the river. The Corps is charged with control of the big river, a task that in recent years of severe drought has made it the target of numerous disputes and lawsuits. Tuesday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the Corps in several of those suits, including one by an environmental group that didn’t want the river kept high enough for cargo shipping. That suit dealt with the Corps new “Master Manual,” Johnston explains, and whether that river-management plan met the needs of the endangered species act. He says the court affirmed the Corps of Engineers has indeed followed the law requiring it to serve all the river’s users, and also the endangered species act. Johnston says for more than 6 decades, the Corps of Engineers has been serving many masters. When the Flood Control Act of 1944 was passed, he says it laid out 8 “authorized purposes” for the Corps to follow. Since then more have been added, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. With years of drought in the Missouri River Basin, users including farmers, city water plants, the recreation industry and power plants have battled over who was getting their fair share of the shrinking water supply. While the drought’s easing over much of the West, the river’s level isn’t expected to recover fully for a long time.
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