WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would keep more water in upper Missouri River reservoirs during extreme drought under a plan proposed Monday.
But the corps, which manages dams and reservoirs along the 2,341-mile river, does not plan to make the seasonal changes to the river’s depth that cause the spring rises and summer lows that conservationists contend are needed to protect endangered fish and bird species.
It does intend to acquire a shallow habitat for pallid sturgeon to spawn and plans to build or modify sandbars needed for terns and plovers to nest, according to the biological assessment released by the corps Monday.
Not enough, conservationists say
Conservationists said those measures will not be enough to protect the species, pointing out that the report contradicts a 2000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendation for the flow changes.
While he welcomed some of the drought measures, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said the plan was not the broader reform the river needs.
Daschle, from South Dakota, said the corps “has once again proven its commitment to maintaining the status quo on the river by proposing a flawed management plan.”
Maintaining a balance
Brig. Gen. William T. Grisoli, who oversees Missouri River management for the corps, said the plan was “the best balance” between helping species rebound and other river uses.
Montana and the Dakotas want steady or rising water levels in the river’s six huge reservoirs during spring to protect the eggs laid in shallow water by walleyes and baitfish. Those fish populations are crucial to multimillion dollar sport fishing industries on the lakes.
Downstream states want enough water released from those reservoirs to keep barges moving below Sioux City, Iowa, and to provide water for cities, power plants and other uses.
The corps sent the assessment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review.
New plan possible
If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees that the plan protects the species, the corps will write an environmental impact statement and a new “master manual” — a long-term operating plan for dams that has been subject to a decade of dispute between conservationists and commercial barge operators and upstream and downstream states.