Eagle Bluffs soon will add 200-acre wetland habitat

The debate now is where all the water will come from.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:45 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA - Columbia’s nature enthusiasts and bird watchers will soon have a new wetland to add to their list of places to go.

The Army Corps of Engineers and Missouri Department of Conservation are nearing completion on a 200-acre wetland habitat for migratory birds at Eagle Bluffs conservation area in addition to the wetlands already established there. The conservation area is located off West Route K in southern Columbia.

This is part of the corps’ long-running Missouri River Habitat Mitigation Project that builds wetlands to offset those lost when the Missouri River was channelized in the 1940s.

“The project was probably first proposed about three years ago,” said Jim Loveless, Eagle Bluffs’ wildlife management biologist and a former Columbia city councilman. “We didn’t get going on it until about last March, but it has moved really fast since we started. It is going to be a great habitat for ducks, geese and especially shorebirds.

“You can fit tens of thousands of (shorebirds) into pretty small areas, and we are expecting many, many species of them,” he said.

Loveless said that the peak times for birds at the wetlands will be in the late spring and early fall.

“The shorebirds don’t clear out until late June, and then they already start coming back by the end of August. The ducks will be at their highest numbers in late September and early October,” he said. “In the spring we’ll be ready for the birds by the last week of April, and in the fall we’ll be good to go by the last week of September.”

But there is a big hitch slowing the all-but-finished wetland: Where will the water come from?

“We are basically looking at two options. We can either pump water out of the city of Columbia water mains that run underneath the wetland, or drill our own wells with the Corps of Engineers,” Loveless said. “Obviously, it would be easier to just turn on a spigot, rather than build and manage wells and pumps.”

All parties involved — the corps, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Columbia Water and Light — said a decision should be reached soon.

“We are really going to try and crunch the numbers and figure out if we have a deal with the city by the end of this week,” said Bob Dimmitt of the Kansas City office of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We need to get it done real quick. If we don’t have an agreement in place by the end of this week, we are going to get up from the table, shake (the city’s) hand and walk away looking for a different solution.”

Columbia Water and Light director Dan Dasho thinks a deal is likely.

“We are in the process of discussing the cost to us, and the corps is looking at the cost of city water and building their own well,” Dasho said.

Dasho said that the 275 million gallons of water the wetland would need each year sounds big, but it wouldn’t present problems for the city.

“In 2006, we produced about 5 billion gallons of water for the city, about 350 to 500 million a month, so 275 million for Eagle Bluffs would just be a drop in the bucket,” he said. “The water is needed in off-peak months as well (October, November, March and April), so no problems whatsoever should arise. We have the capability to provide the water.”

Dasho also said that the cost of the water for the life of the project, which would be 20-50 years, would probably be in the $750,000 to $1.5 million range.

“That’s not too expensive,” he said.

So when will a decision be made?

“Bob (Dimmitt) holds the purse stings,” Loveless said. “But one way or another, it should be soon.”

Regardless of whether a water agreement is reached with the city this week, Dimmitt said that it is unlikely the wetland will be ready this fall.

“Next spring is probably more likely,” Loveless said.

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