New proposals for Missouri River management are raising the ire of farmers and downriver communities that worry about increased risk of flooding.
Late last year, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed six new ways to manage the Missouri River, none of which seem to be totally acceptable for those living in the flood plain. The Corps of Engineers operates six dams controlling much of the rise and fall of water along the Missouri River.
“The best one would be the first proposal to continue with the status quo,” said Dan Boulware, an attorney with the Polsinelli Law Firm and the lead attorney for a lawsuit suing the Corps of Engineers over the way the Missouri River is operated. “And even that one means causing more flooding.”
Some say keeping the status quo or increasing the flow to accommodate the needs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t seem to offer anything but more flooding below Gavins Point in South Dakota.
“It’s a completely unacceptable flood risk,” said Dan Engemann, executive director of the coalition to protect the Missouri River, “especially since the tributaries below Gavins Point can add increased water in the blink of an eye.”
In one proposal, the Corps is calling for an increased flow from Gavins Point Dam to about 60,000 cubic feet per second.
Typically in winter, the Corps keeps the water flowing at about 17,000 to 19,000 cubic feet per second. Wednesday’s reported release from Gavins Point was 17,000 cfs.
A new proposal could have the river running at the increased level of 60,000 cfs for 35 days each spring, which Fish and Wildlife believes will help endangered species.
Local farmer Lanny Frakes, who also is a member of the Missouri Levee and Drainage Districts Association, knows streams below Gavins Point can cause problems when the Corps already has the water running high.
“I’ve seen thunderstorms cause the Missouri to rise 10 feet in 24 hours,” Frakes said.
If the Missouri River has an increased flow rate of 60,000 cfs, there is no wiggle room for those living in the flood plain, said Seth Wright, an attorney with the Polsinelli law firm.
This means there is no wiggle room for communities like St. Joseph.
And high water presents a major problem for floodplain farmers who depend on gravity-fed systems and levees to keep water off their fields.
Long before a river rises to a flood point, levees have to have their gates closed and water starts backing up.
“Soaking fields begin holding water that has nowhere to go because the flood gates are closed,” Frakes said. “A farmer could lose the window for spring planting.”
The overarching themes expressed by residents living and working along the Missouri River include continued apprehension of flooding affecting agriculture, navigation, utilities and Missouri River communities, Boulware said.
Similar concerns exist if the Corps pursues increased flow on the Missouri River in the fall instead of the spring.
“It could have a major negative impact on a farmer’s annual harvest,” Frakes said. “It includes the likelihood of reduced crop yields.”
Area residents have until April 24 to comment on the proposals and to contact their congressional representative and senators.