The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today released a key part of its master plan for managing the Missouri River system. Brigadier General William Grisoli says the environmental impact statement must be approved before the “Master Manual” can be finalized, and the document released today is the best balance to serve the purposes authorized by Congress, meet treaty obligations to tribes, and comply with federal laws on the environment and endangered species. Grisoli says the Corps is committed to improving the survival of the endangered plants and animals, providing predictability to the Missouri basin, and lessening the impact of drought by keeping more water in the reservoirs. A US District Court Judge in Minnesota has ordered the timetable be shortened to 14 days, from March 5th to the 19th. The plan does NOT include high water in spring or lower flows late in summer, the pattern recommended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as being closest to natural and best for endangered species like the pallid sturgeon. Grisoli says the environmental impact statement and revised Master Manual describe new drought-conservation measures to save more water in the upriver reservoirs earlier in a drought than they do now. He says we wouldn’t be in this situation if we’d already had such conservation measures, because reservoirs would be several feet higher right now — and he says conserving more water “up front” is important to the river basin. Control of the dams has been the subject of several lawsuits as upriver states demand the water be kept for boating, fishing and recreation, while downriver states like Iowa and Nebraska say the dams should release more for their barge shipping, farming, drinking and power-plant water needs. Grisoli said part of a plan to restore wildlife habitat is taking “oxbow” lakes that once were bends in the river, and re-connecting them as Missouri backwaters that can provide wildlife habitat. He names Decatur Bend, one in a series of waterways cut off from the river that are being restored, and says the agency’s working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and wants to monitor that agency’s work to make sure it’s being done right.
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