Baucus, Tester Warn Against Water Grab
Senators Oppose Releasing Water From Missouri River To Support Mississippi
Published: Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
Montana’s senators joined a bipartisan group of members of Congress and governors from upstream Missouri River states to urge President Barack Obama to reject a request for an emergency declaration to release Missouri River water to support Mississippi River barge traffic.
In a letter sent last Thursday to Obama, FEMA Administrator William Fugate and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and the others expressed their “strong opposition to the misguided efforts” to release more Missouri water to aid navigation on the Mississippi, which is at very low levels because of this year’s drought.
They called the requested action illegal, because the Flood Control Act of 1944 authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage the Missouri River for eight purposes, among them navigation on the Missouri River.
“Seeking to utilize significant water resources on the Missouri River for the benefit of navigation on the Mississippi River would not only be short-sighted, but would also cause harm to our states and the other authorized purposes within the Missouri River basin both in the short and long-term,” the letter stated.
The letter was signed by the senators from Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas, plus the governors and four congressmen from North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas, 15 elected officials in all.
“Sending Montana water downstream to float barges will hurt our small businesses and create more problems than solutions. We all share the pain during drought years, but upstream states like Montana stand to get the short end of the stick when downstream states don’t play by the rules,” said Baucus in a statement.
“Montana producers and families faced record drought this summer and are relying on Montana water to help them recover,” Tester said in the same statement. “This short-sighted, irresponsible proposal will hurt our ability to grow our economy and create jobs, and I will do everything I can to make sure Montana communities and businesses get the water they need.”
The request from downstream interests and opposition from upstream states is another chapter in a long-standing struggle for water in the Missouri River basin.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, is one of the leaders gathering elected officials from the affected states on the Mississippi to pressure the White House to delay or stop the Corps’ flow reductions from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, according to an Associated Press story. Nearly 80 members of Congress and the governors of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa wrote to Assistant Secretary Darcy, the AP said. Trade groups and national organization asked Obama last week to declare a presidential emergency to avoid “economic disaster.”
In addition to increased water flow, these interests also ask for a speedup in the removal of rock formations in the middle stretch of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.
The Corps began Friday to cut the Gavins Point releases of 37,500 cubic feet per second, reducing flows to 12,000 cfs by Dec. 11, as they had announced in their annual Missouri River master operating plan. The reasons given for reducing flows were because low water in the upper Missouri are having an impact on recreation, exposing Native American artifacts and may affect hydropower.
The Mississippi is currently at a depth of 13 feet. Barge traffic becomes difficult at 9 feet, which National Weather Service hydrologists predict will be the depth by Dec. 10.
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