The public will have about two weeks to make comments on the just-released update of the Missouri River Master Manual. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked on changes to the river “roadmap” for over 12 years before releasing it late last month. A federal judge ordered the public comment period trimmed to just two weeks, and it will end on March 19th. The Corps’ Paul Johnston says he’s hearing a lot of criticism of the new document.He says he’s never had any illusions that the Corps would be able to develop a plan that makes everybody happy. The Environmental Impact Statement that’s a preliminary to the river-management manual must be approved before the master plan’s finalized. When the Corps offered the draft EIS, it got more than 55,000 comments, and the reason the document is so big is that it includes a response to all those comments. The Corps’ dilemma, he explains, stems from its mandate to manage the river for the benefit of “all users”…a big group, with priorities that often clash. The purposes authorized by Congress cover a wide range of interests and are often in direct conflict with one another, so Johnston says while they’re not going to make everyone happy all the time, the agency strives “mightily” to achieve a balance. Upriver, large hydroelectric dams need the river’s water to make power and boating and fishing on the reservoirs mean big recreation industries. But farther down the river at Iowa and Missouri, other power plants want more of the river’s water released from the dams for cooling, and farm, town and barge-shipping users also compete for a water supply that’s dwindled over four years of drought. There have been several lawsuits filed over the river’s management and a number of interest groups have said they’ll take the Corps to court again over the operating plan.
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