Missouri River Water Wars Continue As Drought Persists

Missouri River flooding | Susan Abbot, USACE

Missouri River flooding | Susan Abbot, USACE

Remember back in good old 2011, when the Missouri River flooded like crazy and everyone wondered if it would ever stop? Boy did it stop in 2012! The flood has been nearly forgotten with the massive drought conditions across the Midwest.

In 2012, American Rivers listed the Missouri River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. It truly continues to be endangered. Our partner, Paul Lepisto, with the Izaak Walton League of America, sent us this recent update on the critical situation:

With no drought relief in sight, the Army Corps of Engineers is predicting runoff into the Missouri River reservoir system will remain below normal, at least through spring 2013. Much of the basin remains in severe to exceptional drought. The driest conditions are in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and northwest Iowa. The 2013 runoff above Sioux City is forecast to be only 82% of normal.

The runoff season, which begins March 1, will begin with the reservoir’s storage for drought conditions at only 78% of capacity. This storage zone is used during droughts to provide service, sometimes at reduced levels, for the eight congressionally authorized river purposes of flood control, navigation, water supply, irrigation, hydropower, recreation, water quality, and fish and wildlife.

Last year more than 20% of water stored in the system was used for the authorized purposes. The Corps will have to reduce service for all of the authorized purposes in the future if this devastating drought continues.

Despite the lack of water, navigation interests and politicians from lower basin and Mississippi River states renewed their pleas to the Army Corps to increase Missouri River releases to support barge traffic on the Mississippi River, which is also seeing near record low flows. This is vigorously opposed by the upper basin states and businesses dependent on the river.

The Army Corps maintains that legally the Missouri River cannot be used to provide navigation on the Mississippi. They plan on continuing their water conservation plan through the winter. Many conservation and outdoor groups support this position and we applaud the Army Corps for their stance.

This renewed battle over Missouri River water releases demonstrates the need for a comprehensive review of the river’s uses and how they are, or aren’t, meeting the needs of people in the basin. The Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS) and the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan (MRERP) need to be re-funded and completed for any meaningful change to occur.


Please help us in our pursuit to restore the Missouri River by sending a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking them to fund these critical studies! Take action »