Nixon to file Missouri River suit this week

He says a spring rise could flood thousands of acres of farmland.
Thursday, April 27, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:31 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said Wednesday he will file a lawsuit this week to stop plans for a man-made spring rise on the Missouri River.

Nixon said a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from upstream reservoirs next month could flood hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Missouri.

The corps proposed the spring rise to encourage spawning by an endangered fish, the pallid sturgeon. Agency officials say they are taking precautions to minimize the risk of flooding.

Corps officials have said water levels in the six upper reservoirs feeding the main stem of the river likely will be high enough for a release to take place after May 1.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court order that found flood control and navigation are the highest priorities for managing the river.

Referring to this week’s legal developments, Nixon said the corps is moving forward with the spring rise despite its failure to analyze possible flood problems in an environmental impact statement, as required by federal law.

“Releasing water during a time of year when the lower Missouri River Valley experiences frequent rainstorms substantially increases the risk that prime farmland will be flooded and that many Missouri farmers will take a financial hit,” Nixon said in a written statement.

“The corps’ hurried process for evaluating potential alternatives failed to adequately account for these serious impacts. We’re suing to stop this wasteful and risky spring rise,” Nixon said.

In a separate statement, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said it would be “irresponsible” for the corps to move forward with the spring rise without an environmental impact statement.

“I want the corps to reconsider this ill-conceived plan,” Blunt said. “And if they do not, we will vigorously pursue all available legal options.”

The lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the spring rise will be filed in federal district court in Minnesota, which has handled a number of cases involving disputes over the river, Nixon said.

Corps officials had planned for two spring rises this year but called off a pulse scheduled for March 1 because water levels in reservoirs that feed the river were too low.

The two-day pulses are supposed to replicate the historic rise of the river with the spring melting of mountain snow before upstream dams were built.

Earlier this week, Nixon said corps officials could not assure that flooding would be avoided, no matter how many precautions they take. He noted that water released from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota takes about 10 days to reach Missouri.

“You’re kind of looking ahead that it’s not going to rain hard for 10 days,” Nixon said. “That in Missouri this time of year is difficult.”

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