Federal judge clears way for Missouri River rise

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 | 3:05 p.m. CDT; updated 12:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

ST. LOUIS — A federal judge on Tuesday refused to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from raising water levels on the Missouri River this week, despite Missouri’s concerns that it could add to downstream flooding.

The corps usually releases extra water in the spring to encourage spawning of the pallid sturgeon, an endangered fish. It was expected to decide later Tuesday whether to release water after midnight.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop the action, claiming it could add to already heavy flooding in the state.

In denying a restraining order to stop the water release, U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton said Tuesday that she saw no evidence to show the corps is not following the law. She said the corps has “ample opportunity” to change its decision to release water if circumstances dictate.

If the corps follows through with its plan, officials would release extra water into the river from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota over a two-day period.

“We’re obviously pleased that the judge’s ruling allows us to carry out our plan to provide the two-day pulse,” said Paul Johnston, a spokesman for the corps’ district office in Omaha, Neb.

Minutes after the judge’s ruling, Johnston said corps officials were meeting to discuss the logistics of the spring rise. Agency guidelines require the corps to reduce the amount of water or cancel the pulse altogether based on the likelihood of downstream flooding.

Despite widespread flooding in Missouri over the past two weeks, Johnston said water levels have been steadily decreasing recently. The corps had predicted earlier this week that it would be able to increase flows safely.

Associated Press Writer Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C, contributed to this report.

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