In recent days Missouri has been hit with severe flooding and storms, which have left 70 counties across the state federally designated disaster areas. Missouri residents and their elected officials have objected to the release of even more water from an upstream dam in South Dakota.
"We would not have started the March pulse from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota if we felt there was risk to public health and safety," said Larry Cieslik, chief of the Missouri River Water Management Office, "but we have heard the concerns of people in Missouri loud and clear."
"In response to the comments we received over the past days regarding the March pulse, we initiated discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on modifying the pulse," said Cieslik.
"The Service concurs that this plan to reduce releases from these five dams provides the benefit it envisioned to ensure the continued existence of the pallid sturgeon. The Service also agreed that the elimination of the pulse below Kansas City was not a concern for the sturgeon because of the existence of the natural spring rises in the reach," he said.
A pallid sturgeon is reintroduced into the Missouri River to help recover the endangered species. (Photo courtesy USGS)
"So, this option achieves the benefit for the pallid sturgeon in the upper river while completely eliminating the flood risk from the pulse downstream of Kansas City to the confluence with the Mississippi River," Cieslik said.
The release of water from the Gavins Point Dam began Tuesday at midnight and ends at midnight tonight. The corps says that all Missouri River gages are well below flood stage. River stages are forecast to continue to fall over the coming days.
"Releases from Milford, Tuttle Creek and Perry dams on Kansas River tributaries, Clinton Dam on the Wakarusa River, and Smithville Dam on the Little Platte River will be cut varying amounts for a total reduction of 5,100 cfs," said Colonel Roger Wilson, Kansas City District Commander.
"These releases will be maintained until the pulse passes the Kansas City area, completely eliminating the pulse," he said.
Legal actions Tuesday by the state of Missouri to stop the release failed in two courts.
U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton found no evidence to show the corps was in violation of any law. Later on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's appeal of the lower court ruling.
State and federal elected officials urged the federal government to halt the spring rise on the Missouri river.
U.S. Senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, appealed to the corps and directly to President George W. Bush to cancel the spring rise. "Itís disappointing that while Missourians are still struggling to recover the government would choose to send these communities another man-made flood," said Bond on Wednesday.
The corps also heard appeals to withhold the water from individual citizens, said spokesman Paul Johnston.
Johnston said the current plan is a "win-win" situation. "The pallid sturgeon gets what it needs at the right place in the "critical" reach below Gavin's Point Dam, and it eliminates concern for the people of Missouri "who have taken it on the chin with the flooding down there." The reach from Kansas City to the Missisissippi River is not critical for the endangered fish, Johnston said.
The last spring rise was released by the Army Corps in May of 2006, and Johnston said it is too early in the current season to know how the pallid sturgeon are doing.
"Based on the monitoring we did last year," said Johnston, "we did see some movement of the sturgeon towards what we think are their preferred spawning areas - gravel and cobble areas on the bottom of the river."
"We have teams out monitoring the sturgeon, some of which are tagged with radio receivers," he said. "Maybe there were never a lot of sturgeon, biologists can't figure out why there's a lot of shovelnose sturgeon, but not many pallids. Flow, nutrients and turbidity are the same - why is one successful and one not?"
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.