Communities or companies that draw water from reservoirs along the Missouri River to use for drinking water, irrigation and other reasons could soon be charged for the water. That proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is drawing criticism from potential users. David Pope, executive director of the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes, says this will be a key topic of discussion as the group meets today and Tuesday in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

“There’s flows that come into the reservoirs, we call natural flows, and that water would be there whether the reservoir was there or not, in most cases, for these kinds of uses,” Pope says. “They feel like they’re being forced to do these contracts or pay for water even though people downstream are not.” Pope says they’ll also discuss the threats of shutting down the federal government, deep cuts in federal spending and the impact on river projects and operations.

“All of the things that are going on in the country right now with the federal budget, that affects pretty much everybody interested in the water business because of funds for projects and studies and programs,” Pope says. “We’ll be trying to keep track of the cuts that are going through and are going to affect various things.” Pope says the members will also get an update on the potential for spring flooding in the Missouri River basin.

“Conditions are not terribly different from where they were at this time of year last year and we know what happened then,” Pope says. “We may or may not have that again. That largely was precipitated by the snow runoff and the heavy rains.” Pope says the board of directors will also look to hire another executive director, as he is planning to retire.

The Missouri River Association of States and Tribes is a multi-state organization formed by joint resolution of the governors of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas and the Mni Sose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton