The navigation season on the Missouri River will be cut short this year because of the ongoing drought. Paul Johnston of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha says the lack of rain and low level of water in the river aren’t hurting endangered species.
The piping plover and least tern are “in the midst of their nesting season as we speak,” he says, and doing just fine. There are plenty of sandbars on the low river to nest on, and that’s good for them — though not good for people who want to float barges.
Despite a larger-than-average snowpack in the mountains hundreds of miles upstream that feed into the Missouri River, a warm springtime melted that snow fast and put an end to hopes that the drought would turn around this year.
Johnston says it’s “no big surprise to the folks in Nebraska and western Iowa about ow dry it is.” As a result, the navigation season will be shortened by 44 days this year. This isn’t the first time the barge season has been shortened due to the river’s low water level but Johnston says the series of dams farther up the river are being managed to keep water levels sufficient for cargo shipping.
He says the river’s pretty low here and down in Missouri, but the Corps will continue to see that enough water’s released from the dams to provide sufficient supply to cool power plants along the river and supply cities with drinking and industrial water and supplies for fire protection. Johnston says although the drought continues, he doesn’t expect the barge shipping season to be cut even shorter.
Some rain will fall, though he says “It’ll be tough if we don’t get tributary contributions to the river.” The season will remain at 44 days shorter than normal and as soon as it ends in mid-October, output from the dams will be cut severely to preserve as much water as possible in the reservoirs upriver. He says the plan for next spring is do to what the Corps did this year, sending a “pulse” of water from the dams down the river to encourage spawning of an endangered fish, but it won’t be possible if there isn’t enough water in the river.