Corps of Engineers discusses river plans

By Marshall White, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Apr. 16–The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to town Thursday to explain their plans for using the Missouri River in 2010.

An increased snowpack on the plains is expected to make up for the continuing deficiencies in the mountain snowpack this year along much of the Missouri River system, said Jody Farhat, chief of the corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management programs. With the exception of the Fort Peck Reservoir, water storage levels are anticipated to be at levels that will comfortably allow for improved service to all the Congressionally authorized purposes of the Missouri River, Ms. Farhat said.

The authorized purposes are flood control, hydroelectrical power, drinking water supplies, water quality control, recreation, navigation, irrigation, fish and wildlife, plus protecting endangered species.

The really good news for St. Joseph was that the corps anticipated having a full navigation season for the first time in several years.

But the drought and shortened navigation periods for several years have made it improbable for barge traffic to come to St. Joseph, said Ken Reeder, who represents the region on one of the corps’ Missouri River study groups. The city will have to have a band out to celebrate the arrival of the first barge if it comes this year, Mr. Reeder said.

Actions to help endangered species have been questioned for several years in the lower Missouri River, but the corps had some qualified good news for 2010.

The spring rise to help the endangered pallid sturgeon was canceled in March, Ms. Farhat said. The corps has another opportunity to release enough water for a rise in mid-May. If there is high water along the lower Missouri River that might cause flooding problems, it could be canceled again in May, she said.

The corps will reassess the Missouri River and planned releases in July.

Mr. Reeder reminded corps employees that a hot button for St. Joseph residents and government is the unfunded mandate requiring significant reductions in the combined sewer overflows.

There was no discussion of the fact that 17 years after the 1993 flood, the levees in the St. Joseph area still haven’t been fixed; the corps continues to study the issue.

This was the sixth and final meeting for corps employees in three days. There were more corps employees in attendance than area residents.

Marshall White can be reached at marshall@npgco.com.

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