7
Recovering the Missouri River Ecosystem

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Washington, January 4, 1786

The Missouri River ecosystem is in a marked state of decline that is causing a reduction of goods and services and the potential loss of species. The decline has resulted in part from a series of federal actions that were designed to provide a suite of benefits thought desirable fifty years ago. Many of these benefits are still enjoyed today. However, that set of benefits does not fully satisfy contemporary preferences and needs. On the eve of the two-hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a critical crossroads regarding the Missouri River ecosystem’s future is approaching.

This report recommends the use of an adaptive management approach to reverse the ecological decline of the Missouri River. Adaptive management is a relatively new approach and has not yet been fully implemented in the Missouri River. However, the concept holds promise in designing experiments that improve river ecology and that increase the flexibility of river management policies and organizations. Nonetheless, successful implementation of this paradigm, and progress toward a healthier Missouri River ecosystem, must address several challenges. This chapter identifies barriers and bridges to the successful implementation of adaptive management and provides policy, organizational, and scientific recommendations to help improve the condition of the Missouri River ecosystem.



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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery 7 Recovering the Missouri River Ecosystem I am certainly not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Washington, January 4, 1786 The Missouri River ecosystem is in a marked state of decline that is causing a reduction of goods and services and the potential loss of species. The decline has resulted in part from a series of federal actions that were designed to provide a suite of benefits thought desirable fifty years ago. Many of these benefits are still enjoyed today. However, that set of benefits does not fully satisfy contemporary preferences and needs. On the eve of the two-hundredth anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a critical crossroads regarding the Missouri River ecosystem’s future is approaching. This report recommends the use of an adaptive management approach to reverse the ecological decline of the Missouri River. Adaptive management is a relatively new approach and has not yet been fully implemented in the Missouri River. However, the concept holds promise in designing experiments that improve river ecology and that increase the flexibility of river management policies and organizations. Nonetheless, successful implementation of this paradigm, and progress toward a healthier Missouri River ecosystem, must address several challenges. This chapter identifies barriers and bridges to the successful implementation of adaptive management and provides policy, organizational, and scientific recommendations to help improve the condition of the Missouri River ecosystem.

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery BARRIERS TO IMPLEMENTING ECOSYSTEM RECOVERY The implementation of Missouri River management actions designed to improve ecological conditions is stymied by institutional, social, historical, and physical factors. A management regime that actively promotes restoration actions in Missouri River dam operations has not been, until recently, part of traditional practices or goals, nor are such actions explicitly described in the Corps’ Master Manual. Many Missouri River basin stakeholders are accustomed to a steady delivery of services. As in many U.S. river systems, historical inertia on the Missouri favors the status quo management regime and resists innovations and departures therefrom: “Inertia in the Missouri River basin is great, and the incentives to maintain the status quo strong” (Thorson, 1994). The status quo, however, may not represent the straightjacket that many assume. Existing legislation may provide the Corps enough latitude within its operations and regulations to implement adaptive management actions for the benefit of river ecology. Although the Corps may have this latitude to experiment, the agency has had strong incentives to stabilize the river’s hydrologic variability. A perception has thus developed that the Corps has limited legal ability to experiment with river operations. To an extent, this perception is perhaps true. By the same token, the Corps has choices in deciding upon the means by which to meet the management ends defined in the Master Manual and other federal directives. The Master Manual, for example, does not preclude the use of experimental flows for meeting objectives defined in the Endangered Species Act or for ecosystem improvements. Nonetheless, perceived narrow limits on experiments act as a barrier to river recovery efforts. For example, recent proposals by the Corps to experiment with flows from Fort Peck Dam have elicited concerns regarding the Corps’ legal authority to conduct such experiments. The Corps could also pursue new practices to fulfill other emerging duties. The Corps, like all U.S. government agencies, is bound by federal environmental legislation such as the Endangered Species Act and has proposed management modifications to avoid violation of the Act. The Endangered Species Act and other statutes expand the Corps’ discretion to make management decisions that incorporate species conservation and recovery and ecosystem restoration into its plans. The legislation reinforces the discretion that the Corps has under Pick–Sloan and its other authorities. In regard to prospective adaptive management activities, federal environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act would not be suspended. Carefully designed and implemented adaptive management activities may constitute compliance with federal environmental duties.

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery A reliance on predictable patterns of benefit delivery has likely contributed to rigidity of the institutions and policies that govern Missouri River management. Towboat operators have come to depend upon a steady and reliable nine-foot river channel; their operations would be disrupted if the channel depth was twelve feet one day and six feet the next. The same operators that expect an uninterrupted 8-month navigation season may object to a divided navigation season consisting of two 4-month navigation periods. Most floodplain residents depend upon the river staying consistently within its banks. This dependence on predictable river flows inhibits management actions that seek to restore a degree of natural hydrologic variability of the river. Stakeholders who gain from the delivery of benefits, such as flood-damage reduction or navigation benefits, will naturally resist reductions in those benefits. Finally, long-standing rivalries between upstream and downstream states, as well as between competing stakeholders, may also inhibit departures from the current management regime. Upstream stakeholders, for example, may resist experiments with upstream dams and reservoirs if it is felt that the ensuing benefits will accrue primarily to sections downstream. Similar tensions exist between beneficiaries such as recreational users, commercial shippers, and tribal groups. These tensions must be addressed if some of the river’s ecological benefits are to be restored. With more information, it may be possible to show that benefits of some degree of ecosystem restoration exceed the losses and are fairly evenly distributed among stakeholders. MOVING TOWARD RECOVERY: IDENTIFYING THE BRIDGES To establish a foundation for an enhanced Missouri River ecosystem, resources must be devoted to reexamining the usefulness of conventional practices and policies in light of new demands and their understanding. Best practices of the past must be merged with the imperatives for some degree of river ecosystem recovery. New strategies and approaches must be instituted in order to initiate recovery of the river system’s ecology. Four steps should be taken to help lay the groundwork for adaptive management strategies and actions. Congress must legitimatize and empower Missouri River managers with the authority and responsibility to actively experiment with river operations that aim to enhance ecological resources. Actions must be designed to be large enough to show how the river’s regime can be redirected to create and renew habitat. This may disrupt the current delivery of services, and care should be taken so that stakeholders are not subjected to undue stresses or surprises. As efforts are made to restore the Missouri’s

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery natural processes, means of informing, and where necessary, safeguarding, mitigating, and compensating stakeholders who may perceive harm from changes in flows, must be developed and implemented as impacts become known. For example, the Corps’ district office in St. Paul, Minnesota, did all of this in preparation for pool-stage manipulations in late summer, 2001, which were designed to improve habitat in the Upper Mississippi River. A representative stakeholder committee should be empowered and convened by the appropriate agencies to develop a basinwide strategy, conduct assessments, review plans, and provide oversight of the implementation of adaptive management initiatives. This action in and of itself will require congressional action to articulate the division of authority among the Department of the Army, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the states, Indian tribes, and other relevant bodies. Congress must require the development of long-term goals and short-term measurable objectives for adaptive management actions so that successes and failures can enhance public understanding. Given our imperfect knowledge of ecological dynamics and social preferences, federal agencies must be mandated by Congress to work with stakeholders to build commitment to and acceptance of changes to the current patterns of benefits delivered from the river and reservoir system. In doing so, flexibility in the delivery of multiple services must be promoted. PRINCIPLES FOR STAKEHOLDER INVOLVEMENT Recovery efforts must include significant stakeholder participation and input. With appropriate incentives and thorough trust building, there may be greater stakeholder willingness to engage in ecosystem recovery efforts than anticipated. Without stakeholder input, there is a high risk of litigation and further gridlock that will limit progress toward improved ecological conditions. Stakeholder involvement must be carefully developed and should adhere to the following principles in order to improve the chances of success (Larry Spears, North Dakota Consensus Council, personal communication, 2000). The order of listing should not be misconstrued as representing a hierarchy of any sort, and all of the following recommendations are important to ensure the stakeholder group’s effectiveness: Participation by a broad spectrum of interest groups. Many groups have legitimate interests in shaping improvements of the Missouri River ecosystem. It would not be feasible for every group to participate in every activity. Some groups will have greater resources than

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery others, and some groups may be more active (and vocal) than others. The challenge will be to ensure that the voices of all sectors of the public are heard—not just those of the most vocal or most influential sectors. Environmental groups, businesses, farmers, municipal and regional governments, and citizens from across the basin must be at the table for discussions. Inclusion of tribal interests. Native Americans have a special place on the Missouri River and bring a unique perspective to discussions. As with participation by other groups, given the large number of tribes along the river, the tribes must select those who will represent the interests and knowledge of all tribes along the river and who will share what they learn with their larger community. Continuous two-way communication with the public. Too often in public-involvement processes, participation by select groups is seen as providing adequate contact with the citizenry of the basin, expecting that these groups will keep the public informed and accept their comments. This does not always work. Provisions must be made for formal input from the public, as individuals or groups, and for dissemination of information to the public. Ongoing exchange between decision makers and the public should aim to build a relationship of mutual respect and trust. Visible participation by federal, state, and tribal governments and nongovernmental organizations. Participation in the process must not become onerous to the participants. They must see that those they represent and those that sponsor the process value their efforts. This may be demonstrated by the participation of key government personnel and non-governmental personnel, by formal recognition of the work of participants, and by agencies that actively support the concept of public involvement. Support from an independent, interdisciplinary scientific panel. In its activities, the stakeholder group will be presented with considerable scientific information developed by technical personnel representing government agencies, other organizations, and individuals. Although some of this material will be clear and uncontroversial, other material may be confusing and contradictory to other information, or it may contain significant scientific uncertainties. Therefore, an independent and interdisciplinary scientific advisory panel is necessary to help clarify and resolve scientific inconsistencies and to provide scientific knowledge to the stakeholder group. An independent advisory panel can also help resolve legitimate differences regarding scientific studies, structure adaptive management

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery experiments, interpret the results of management actions, and measure progress toward ecosystem recovery goals. A challenge to both the scientific group and to the stakeholder group is to determine an appropriate set of environmental indicators, or baseline, against which to measure the impacts of management actions and progress of adaptive management efforts. A useful initial effort of the independent science group would be to identify a set of indicators to be used in developing an assessment of ecological status and trends in the Missouri River ecosystem. Provision by the federal government, with support from the states and tribes, of secure funding for stakeholder involvement effort over the lifetime of the activity. If the effort is continuous, financial support to the effort must be continuous. Funds will provide administrative support to the process and to its participants, will support travel expenses in connection with stakeholder participation, and will support activities of the independent scientific advisory panel and the facilitation group. Participation by representatives of Congress and of the state legislatures of Missouri basin states. Staff members from the offices of basin representatives and senators at the national level and their equivalents at the state level must remain in contact with stakeholders and provide them with information at the political level and reinforce legislative support for the efforts of the stakeholder groups. Consensus decision making by the stakeholder group. In developing positions on key issues, the stakeholder groups must operate in a consensus mode. Operating under a majority-rule system would leave some parties perpetually unsatisfied with the outcome. Although developing consensus positions requires more time and experience than does majority rule, consensus decision making provides more sustainable and more widely acceptable results. Bounding the process with defined goals and with timelines for their achievement. The stakeholder group must define its expected outcomes and develop the plans to move toward them so that progress can be measured and problems identified. Participating governmental bodies should review and concur with these goals and timelines.

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery Conduct of the activities of the governments in an open and transparent manner. To many, the very presence of a stakeholder group would indicate openness. To others, however, openness and transparency require that the government agencies and the stakeholder group conduct their activities in a manner that enables the public to observe these activities. Modern communications systems, the Internet, and availability to the media can enhance this process. Authentication of the stakeholder involvement process by governments in a formal document with all participating agencies as signatories. Full understanding of the process and the level of commitment to the process must be clear to all participating agencies. A Memorandum of Understanding among the agencies serves to eliminate misunderstandings and provides the public a summary of what stakeholder involvement entails. Provision of formal, independent facilitation for stakeholder group activities. When any broadly based group gathers to conduct business, the success of the meeting depends largely on the manner in which the meeting is conducted. Stakeholder group participants will have neither the time nor the expertise to consistently lead all discussions. Facilitation by sponsoring government agencies raises questions of conflict of interest. Independent facilitation by experts would provide for efficient and unbiased discussion of the issues that must be considered. This committee is aware of the history of efforts to enlist stakeholder participation in river system policymaking, both in the Missouri and in other U.S. river basins, and does not labor under the illusion that its recommendations represent the final answer to resolving differences of opinion among stakeholders. Because previous, similar efforts in the Missouri may not have yielded results that are satisfactory to all parties, however, does not mean that stakeholder cooperation is not possible in the Missouri. Moreover, several of this committee’s recommendations—an independent science advisory body, formal facilitation, adequate and sustained resources from and participation by the federal government, mandated and formal input into Missouri River management decisions, equal participation by a spectrum of users that includes tribal and environmental interests—have not been adequately tested as part of Missouri River management decisions. This committee cannot predict the outcomes of its recommendations, but if implemented, they would represent the most vigorous and

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery comprehensive effort to date to formally incorporate a range of stakeholder perspectives into Missouri River and dam management decisions. SYSTEM-WIDE MANAGEMENT A system-wide perspective on Missouri River management must be part of river recovery efforts. Management decisions on the Missouri River’s tributaries should be part of integrated, system-wide management, as well as the necessary ecosystem-wide management (vs. species or site-specific perspectives). This committee was charged to focus on the Missouri River ecosystem. However, river managers and scientists should not lose sight of the fact that the Missouri River mainstem is the ecological backbone of the larger Missouri River basin which includes tributaries like the Bad, Kansas, Little Missouri, Platte, and Yellowstone rivers. Objectives and management strategies for future Missouri River management will be enhanced to the extent that they consider the effects of these and other tributary streams on the Missouri’s mainstem. Tributaries contribute extreme flows and sediments that have significant effects on the Missouri’s mainstem, and these tributaries often serve as refuges for endangered and threatened species. Experimental flows and other management strategies on tributary streams may have ecologically positive effects on the mainstem and, in some cases, may be politically and socially easier to implement than new management actions on the mainstem. This committee also discussed the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness in protecting select species. The ESA has had positive effects for many species and has often proved to be a useful mechanism in promoting environmentally sound management strategies. Nonetheless, the ESA has weaknesses, one of which is that it focuses on single species, rather than on ecosystem-level criteria or objectives to promote species recovery (Rohlf, 1991). Thus, although useful in some ways, the ESA in itself is not likely to provide a sufficient basis for marked Missouri River ecosystem improvements. Protection and recovery of endangered species will usually be enhanced to the extent that recovery efforts are cast in terms of ecosystem-level restoration and protection, as opposed to protecting only the habitat of an individual species. This broader, ecosystem-level approach to species protection should be promoted and should be part of efforts toward Missouri River recovery. RECOMMENDATIONS The actions needed to move toward Missouri River ecosystem recovery cannot be simply defined or developed in a short time frame. The decision-

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery making process will likely encounter intermittent successes and setbacks. It will require experimentation and adaptation of the knowledge gained in the process. It will require adaptive management. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in equal partnership with other federal agencies (e.g., Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Energy, Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service), the Missouri River basin states, Indian tribes, and representatives from relevant interest groups (e.g., agriculture, environment, municipalities, navigation, recreation) should immediately begin to develop and implement an adaptive management program designed to improve the conditions of the Missouri River ecosystem. To help resolve scientific uncertainties and to assure progress toward ecosystem recovery, an independent scientific peer review process should be a formal component of this stakeholder group. The stakeholder group should review other adaptive management efforts to learn about successes, failures, and potential management actions that could be usefully implemented in the Missouri River ecosystem. Many administrative actions in the Missouri River basin connected with revision of the Master Manual and with improvements in habitat for endangered species are presently under way. These activities seek to define policies for the mainstem dams and reservoirs that would seemingly satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, mitigate habitat losses, and begin ecological restoration. Substantial ecological recovery will not be possible without considerable additional experimentation; thus, a range of options should remain open. A moratorium on current efforts to revise the Master Manual should be enacted. The Corps of Engineers, as an equal partner in cooperation with other stakeholders in Missouri River ecosystem management, should be guided in its dam and reservoir operations by an adaptive management program designed to support improvements to the Missouri River ecosystem. When it is ultimately revised, the Master Manual should provide the flexibility to execute adaptive management actions, such as revising flows to emulate key elements of pre-regulation hydrology and geomorphology. Adaptive management actions are likely to result in the disruption of benefits to some stakeholders. Experimentation should not mean a long-term reduction in benefits and should result in overall increases; the distribution of benefits, however, is likely to be incrementally different and thus questioned by some affected parties. Although some disruptions are welcome, the goal should be to focus on the distribution of gains, as well as the losses stemming from ecosystem renewal, and to come to terms with any glaring disparities in the new set of consequences. This committee believes that the Corps of Engineers, within its current authority, has the ability to collaborate in developing and implementing an adaptive management program focused on the recovery of the Missouri

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery River ecosystem. Other federal agencies operating in the basin have similar latitude to collaborate in an adaptive management process. The committee believes that the Corps has demonstrated the latitude to make incremental adjustments, within the order of listing in paragraph 9-3 of the 1979 Master Manual, among project outputs in carrying out Missouri River ecosystem restoration. This committee encountered interests (in discussions with the Corps) that do not believe the Corps possesses this latitude and that additional authorization would be required to implement a substantial adaptive management program. Therefore, to ensure clarity regarding authority, and to emphasize the need for a Missouri River adaptive management program, Congress should enact a Missouri River Protection and Recovery Act. This Act should clarify the authority of the Corps and of other agencies regarding collaboration as equal partners in this adaptive management effort. It should also provide the necessary fiscal resources—including administrative and facilitation resources—to ensure effective implementation of the Act and the achievement of its goals. The act should also provide for congressional oversight of the progress of the stakeholder group and its activities. Finally, in five years, Congress should commission an independent review of progress toward achieving the goals laid out in the findings and recommendations in this report for implementing adaptive management in the Missouri River ecosystem. This recommended congressional action should proceed on a parallel track with efforts by the Corps and other stakeholders to begin management actions aimed at restoring some level of ecosystem benefits. These actions should be monitored to determine if they are producing the desired outcomes. The building blocks for a successful adaptive management program will ultimately include a clear set of goals and objectives for the Missouri River and its floodplain ecosystem. The adaptive management program should also have a clear legal foundation, as well as a clear means of dispute resolution. Given the history of conflict in the basin, congressional oversight is essential to ensure that the stakeholder group represents the broad spectrum of basin interests and that its activities are achieving desired results. EPILOGUE When the Pick–Sloan Plan was authorized in 1944 and the Missouri River dams were subsequently constructed, a premium was placed on producing hydroelectric power, on controlling floods, and on promoting regional economic and population growth. But since then, fundamental economic and social changes have produced a citizenry that places increasing value on outdoor recreation and on the environment. Furthermore,

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery with the exception of its larger cities, much of the upper Missouri River basin is experiencing population declines. Shifting, declining, and emerging values challenge the U.S. Congress and public agencies to determine how the nation’s ecosystems should be managed and how their benefits should be allocated. The Corps of Engineers has always been responsible for deciding upon the release schedules from the Missouri River mainstem reservoirs. Although determining the optimal reservoir release patterns in a large system like the Missouri River basin was never easy, the Corps was able to reduce the primary system objectives to two: 1) the provision of a reliable 9-foot navigation channel, and 2) the minimization of flood damage. The operations decisions to fulfill these goals were made primarily by hydrologists and engineers. The Corps’ mission was to serve these two primary purposes, and the agency has been challenged to balance the demands of a broader constituency of multiple users. Furthermore, dams and other water resources projects were not subjected to the high degree of economic and environmental scrutiny that they are today. Over time, other benefits of the Missouri River and its mainstem reservoirs have emerged. Although there were always costs of operating the reservoirs, those costs have come into sharper focus in recent decades. Responsibility for reservoir operations still rests with the Corps, but these decisions have become more complicated and more controversial with economic and environmental changes and with shifting public values. The Corps of Engineers allocates the benefits derived from Missouri River mainstem reservoir operations to a variety of users and stakeholders. In response to their broader responsibilities, over the past three decades the Corps has enlisted biologists and economists to assist in developing reservoir operation schedules. Missouri River reservoir operations represent a series of complex tradeoff decisions for the Corps of Engineers. This report has documented tradeoffs between the benefits of restoring and preserving natural ecosystem benefits versus the benefits of managing the river for flood damage reduction and navigation. Without a full understanding of the impacts, particularly those that affected river ecology, decisions were often made without full attention to their consequences. Nonetheless, consequences of these tradeoffs, insofar as they have resulted in significant losses of ecosystem services to society, must be viewed as costs of the prior and current management regime for the Missouri River. Given the significant social and environmental changes since the 1950s, along the Missouri River a comprehensive reevaluation of the various benefits of the Missouri River ecosystem is in order. Interests that benefit from the status quo on the Missouri River will resist such reevaluations and changes to the current operations schedule. Other stakeholders call for

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery significant changes in operations and consequent reallocation of benefits. The Corps of Engineers thus finds itself at the center of a struggle between competing interests that seek to increase or to hold onto their share of these benefits. Just as the construction and operation of dams resulted in a reallocation of the river’s benefits, contemporary struggles demonstrate that changes in Missouri River reservoir operations may benefit some interests and individuals at the expense of others. These considerations help explain criticisms leveled against the Corps of Engineers in its efforts to revise the Master Manual and the strong emotions that surround changes in Missouri River reservoir operation decisions. Should the release schedule of the mainstem reservoir system be adjusted in an effort to increase overall social benefits? And how should the tradeoffs be weighed? These complicated questions should be resolved with input from federal, state, local, and tribal interests. They are not purely technical, scientific questions; they equally include public values. However these questions are answered, the current degraded ecological conditions, the inability among the Missouri River basin states to reach consensus on desirable levels of river flows, and an inability to promptly revise the Master Manual are unsatisfactory. Moving beyond gridlock and toward river recovery and better cooperation between the basin states is a tremendous challenge, but one that must be addressed if ecological declines are to be reversed and the region and nation are to enjoy a broader set of benefits from the Missouri River ecosystem.