Senators urge Corps to abandon Missouri plans

Several U.S. senators from states along the Mississippi River are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to abandon plans to radically cut water flows on the Missouri River.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the Corps is going to start, in his words, “impounding” water behind Missouri River reservoirs starting December 1st to prepare for the possibility of a dry spring ahead.

“The problem is, that’s going to lead to major navigation problems on the Mississippi River, which also has low water levels because of this year’s drought,” Grassley says. “The result is difficult shipping conditions for grain and other commodities.”

The Corps is moving the Missouri River into what it’s calling “drought reserve mode” and it will mean much less water flowing downriver.

Grassley and the bipartisan group of senators want that plan delayed, at least until the Mississippi River’s already-low channel can be cleared of obstacles. “We asked the Army Corps to demolish rock pinnacles, especially at Thebes, Illinois, and to delay impounding the Missouri River water until these rocks can be removed,” Grassley says.

Winter releases from Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, South Dakota, will be dropped to minimum levels, averaging around 12-thousand cubic feet per second (CFS) starting on December 1st and running through the end of February. Current release levels from the dam have been running more than three times that level, at 38,000 CFS.

Grassley says that move to cut the flow on the Missouri will cause significant harm downriver. “The Mississippi River is vital to commerce for agriculture and other products headed to export markets,” he says. “It’s very important also to move things, supplies up the river, particularly agriculture and coal.”

Ironically, water levels last year were at a record high on the Missouri River, with significant flooding that lasted from the spring through summer and into fall.

Other senators who signed the letter to the Corps are Tom Harkin, Roy Blunt, Dick Durbin, Mary Landrieu, Lamar Alexander, Amy Klobuchar, David Vitter, Claire McCaskill, Mark Kirk, Mark Pryor, Roger Wicker, Al Franken, Thad Cochran and John Boozman.

Radio Iowa contributed to this story.

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