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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery 2 Missouri River History, Management, and Legal Setting Much of western history is a series of lessons in consequences. Wallace Stegner, 1962 The Missouri River flows through several different landscapes and physical regions on its path from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. The mountainous terrain in the basin’s western reaches, the aridity in the basin’s western and middle sections, and the more humid climate in the eastern part of the basin help explain the basin’s ecology, human uses of the land, and its history. Humans have altered the Missouri River and surrounding lands to address both the challenges of limited water supplies during drought and high flows during floods. In some cases, these alterations have led to conflicts among the Missouri basin’s upstream and downstream states. They have also resulted in significant modifications of the basin’s natural environment in general and of the Missouri River and floodplain ecosystem in particular. PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY During the last Ice Age, glaciers that extended southward from Canada into the northern United States defined the Missouri River basin’s north-eastern boundary. Glacial lobes directed the Missouri River drainage toward the Mississippi River. Before the glaciers, much of the upper basin (northward of the Bad River’s present confluence with the Missouri at Pierre, South Dakota) drained northeastward into Hudson Bay. On the basin’s southern margins, a low ridge and the Ouachita Mountains today separate the Missouri River basin from the Arkansas River basin.
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery FIGURE 2.1 Missouri River basin landforms. SOURCE: Erwin Raisz, 1954. The basin’s northern landscapes include level to gently rolling plains and hills composed largely of glacial till. The region between the Missouri River (on the north) and the South Dakota-Nebraska border (on the south) is arid and has eroded to form deep valleys. From there to the basin’s southern boundary lie the Great Plains, with their characteristic widely-spaced streams and broad, flat valleys. In the basin’s eastern third, the plains give way to upland plateaus and gently rolling till plains. Annual rainfall varies from 8 inches in the foothills of the Rockies to over 40 inches in parts of Missouri and Iowa. Much of the basin is characterized by the cold winters and hot summers associated with a continental climate (drier in the basin’s western portions, more humid in the east). Throughout the basin, most rain falls during the spring and summer. The basin’s western rivers, such as the Marias and the Yellowstone, gain a large portion of their flow from spring snowmelt. In eastern portions of the Missouri basin, the climate is humid continental and the vegetation is medium-height bluestem grasses, with mixed oak and hickory forest. Moving westward into more arid regions, grasses generally become shorter and more sparse. In this portion of the basin that
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery straddles the one-hundredth meridian, irrigation is practiced in some areas (some with water tapped from the Ogallala Aquifer), but some crops can be grown without supplemental water during wetter years. Moving westward, low grasslands stretch from near the one-hundredth meridian to the Rocky Mountain foothills, dominating the landscape in the basin’s western sections. In this arid section, agriculture consists primarily of ranching, dryland wheat farming, and irrigated agriculture. Along its course from Three Forks, Montana to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Charles County, Missouri, just north of St. Louis, the Missouri River flows through or borders seven states, with the river basin encompassing ten states. The westernmost tributaries of the Missouri River begin at elevations near 11,000 feet above sea level. Flowing downstream and eastward through Montana, the Missouri River is joined on the north by the Milk River, the Missouri’s only major tributary that originates in Canada. Farther downstream, the Yellowstone River joins the Missouri near the Montana–North Dakota border. It is then joined by the Little Missouri, Knife, Cheyenne, Bad, Grand, Niobrara, Platte, and Kansas rivers and several smaller tributaries, all of which enter from the Missouri’s right bank. Between the Milk River in Montana and the James River (which enters the Missouri just northwest of Sioux City, Iowa, on the southern South Dakota boundary), no major tributaries join the Missouri from the north (its left bank). Downstream from the Missouri River–James River confluence, the Vermillion, Big Sioux, Little Sioux, Chariton, Osage, and Gasconade rivers enter the Missouri from both the left and right banks. Where the Missouri joins the Mississippi just above St. Louis, the Missouri River has fallen to an elevation of slightly less than 400 feet above sea level. HUMAN SETTLEMENT Native Americans were the Missouri River basin’s first known inhabitants. Spanish explorers, followed by British and French fur traders, were the first Europeans to enter the Missouri basin. The exploration and settlement of the Missouri basin represents a fascinating and well-documented chapter in the history of United States’ westward expansion (DeVoto, 1947; Webb, 1931). The basin became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. President Thomas Jefferson’s interests in the basin’s physical geography, ecology, and its Native American tribes led to Lewis and Clark’s celebrated expedition. Between 1804 and 1806, Lewis and Clark’s “Corps of Discovery” explored the river from its mouth to its headwaters and opened the Missouri basin to the exploration and settlement of a growing United States (Ambrose, 1996). In “the greatest wilderness trip ever recorded” (Botkin, 1995), the group’s journey was remarkable not only for
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery the distance covered and the dangers and hardships encountered and overcome, but also for its scientific discoveries. Lewis and Clark’s reports led subsequent explorers to see the region as a route to the West for trade with the Indians, and a region for possible mineral extraction. In the early nineteenth century, travelers within the basin relied on the river for transportation and on the benevolence of the natives for their survival. Navigation eventually reached Fort Benton, Montana, in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and carried a great deal of river traffic in the first half of the nineteenth century. But as the railroads expanded and reached the banks of the Missouri (St. Joseph, Missouri, 1859; Bismarck, North Dakota, 1872) and eventually crossed over it to move to the West (reaching Casper, Wyoming, in 1884), reliance on waterways began to decline. Railroads ultimately had a greater influence on the basin’s settlement patterns, especially in its upper reaches, than did steamboats and river navigation. The westward movement brought settlement and farming, as well as commercial hunting. The basin’s settlement initially resulted in only limited ecological impacts. But as these activities intensified, they began to change the lives of Native Americans and the ecology of the Great Plains. The Missouri basin’s settlement was encouraged by public land policies such as the Homestead Act of 1862 and Desert Lands Act of 1877. However, settlement in the basin’s upper, interior reaches was more ephemeral compared to other parts of the west, as droughts and harsh winters there caused many to leave the basin. During the nineteenth century, the prevailing assumption was that land disposition policies would be sufficient to settle and sustain the West, including much of the Missouri River basin. But by the twentieth century, based in part on John Wesley Powell’s surveys of the arid regions of the western United States (Powell, 1878), the federal government realized that more substantial government intervention would be necessary to encourage and sustain further settlement and economic development in the vast, harsh portions of the basin. CHANGES IN THE MISSOURI RIVER AND FLOODPLAIN Irrigated Agriculture Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, settlement of the western United States placed increasingly larger demands on the region’s limited water resources. This period saw an increase in private sector efforts to move water from rivers to nearby arable lands. For example, by 1850 the Mormons were irrigating over 16,000 acres in the area that would become the state of Utah (Worster, 1985). Within the Missouri basin,
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery irrigation cooperatives appeared in Colorado as early as 1859 (Dunbar, 1983). Small diversion dams were constructed and ditches were dug to carry diverted waters to fields for irrigation. Larger dams were eventually used to create storage reservoirs to capture spring runoff for use in the hot and dry western summers. By the end of the nineteenth century, many basin farmers were collaborating to develop irrigation projects that they hoped would ensure the availability of water for increasing acreage in agriculture. Settlement of the Missouri River basin’s arid areas required states to adjust their water laws to unfamiliar climatic conditions. The doctrine of prior appropriation, which provides that the water rights of users who first put water to beneficial use are senior to water rights established later, or “first in time, first in right,” was adopted in varying degrees in the Missouri River basin’s arid regions. Scholars continue to debate whether prior appropriation originated in New England to allocate the rights to the flow of streams among mill owners, or whether it was an application of mining and irrigation customs developed in the west (Pisani, 1996). Whatever its origins, it seems clear that prior appropriation represented a conscious effort to develop an irrigation society in an area of variable rainfall. The two most arid Upper Basin states, Montana and Wyoming, rejected the common law of riparian rights in favor of prior appropriation. States split by the one-hundredth meridian took a more circuitous route to prior appropriation. The Dakotas initially adopted the common law of riparian rights and subsequently followed dual appropriative-riparian systems until the 1950s and 1960s when riparian rights were extinguished. Kansas and Nebraska went through a similar transition (Wells Hutchins, 2 Water Rights in the Nineteen Western States 1-14, 1974). The more humid states of Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri followed the common law of riparian rights and later supplemented them with permit systems. Areas along the Missouri River have never benefited from irrigated agriculture to the extent that other areas in the west have. Irrigated agriculture was in its infancy in the western United States during the 1850s and 1860s, a period during which farmers had limited political influence. But drought in the late 1880s, combined with the efforts of irrigation advocates such as George Maxwell and William Smythe, created the political momentum for a federal reclamation policy to settle the west (Pisani, 1992). The Reclamation Act of 1902 established federal support of irrigation in the western United States as a national policy and created the Reclamation Service, later renamed the Bureau of Reclamation. Missouri River basin residents were quick to recognize the potential for securing resources water resources development; they were, however, less able to profit from the program than areas farther west that had established irrigation districts. As western historian Walter Prescott Webb observed, “The United States
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery government, after the most extensive surveys has not selected a project on the High Plains. . . . by law the national government was compelled to put at least one project in each arid state except Texas, but it will be noticed that the projects in Colorado, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota are placed in the most western portions of those states” (Webb, 1931). By 1904, irrigation projects were under way in the Missouri River basin at several locations. For example, by 1909, the Yellowstone River was being diverted in two locations. By the 1930s, most of the Missouri’s tributaries had one or more dams, diversion structures, or pump stations to store water or to shift it from the rivers and streams to arable lands. By 1939, federal dams had been constructed on the Belle Fourche, Milk, North Platte, Platte, Sun, and Shoshone rivers and their tributaries. Construction also was under way on a 14-dam project that would move 260,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River basin to the Big Thompson River of the Missouri River basin (Tyler, 1992). One pumped irrigation project was built along the Missouri River near its junction with the Yellowstone River. In these projects, irrigated crops such as sugar beets, beans, flax, and grains replaced dryland agricultural crops. Navigation As early as 1824, Congress appropriated funds to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove large tree snags and other obstacles in the Missouri River channel. Government snag boats and river-based work crews continued their efforts to improve navigability through the late 1870s. However, the volume of upper Missouri River traffic began to decline in mid-century, and by the late 1880s, river traffic essentially ended north of Sioux City, Iowa. At about the same time, the Corps began stabilizing riverbanks in populated areas to reduce losses to riverfront property. In 1910, Congress, under pressure from farming and barge interests, authorized the development of a six-foot-deep navigation channel on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis. The project stalled, however, when Congress, faced with World War I, did not appropriate adequate funds for the project. By 1915, all activities had essentially stopped. In 1927, the project was resumed when Congress authorized extension of the six-foot-deep channel to Sioux City, Iowa, and authorized a feasibility study of a nine-foot-deep channel from Kansas City to St. Louis. With funding secured, the Corps launched a program combining bank stabilization with dike construction and strategic dredging designed to narrow the river and eliminate meandering. The dike fields soon filled with sediment, restricting the river to a relatively narrow channel. Wide bends were eliminated, the channel was narrowed, and the river’s velocity increased. The result was a self-scouring channel that reduced the amount of dredging
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery required. The Corps’ focus on the lower basin ultimately linked navigation-enhancement activities and dams for the first time. In 1945, Congress extended the authorization for a nine-foot-deep navigation channel on the Missouri River from Kansas City, Missouri, to Sioux City, Iowa. Flood Damage Reduction Despite the hazards associated with the Missouri River’s floodplains, the benefits of settling on them attracted settlers and resulted in increased occupancy and development. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was no coordinated federal program for flood damage reduction structures and policies, and large floods resulted in significant losses of life and property. Congress considered flood control primarily a local responsibility until passage of the 1917 Flood Control Act, which placed flood control on equal footing with navigation within the Corps and authorized Corps flood-control programs on the Mississippi and Sacramento rivers. In 1927, Congress passed a River and Harbor Act that authorized the Corps to conduct surveys to formulate comprehensive water development plans in several river basins (because the provisions of the surveys were described in House Document No. 308, the surveys were known as the ‘308 Reports’). In examining the Missouri River basin’s flood-control and navigation needs, the Corps identified several major projects intended to assist in flood damage reduction and the development of the basin. There was also catastrophic flooding on the Mississippi River in 1927, which catalyzed further federal involvement in flood-control activities (Barry, 1998). The Flood Control Act of 1936 declared floods a federal responsibility and established a national flood-control policy. Following a major Missouri River flood in 1943, the Corps prepared a report to Congress proposing five major dams on the mainstem Missouri River, two on the Yellowstone River, and five on the Republican River. These flood damage reduction works would be supplemented by levees on the banks of the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis and would complement another ten dams already authorized for construction on Missouri River tributaries (Ferrell, 1993). Hydropower Construction of hydropower dams began in the Missouri basin during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1890, the Corps of Engineers was given responsibility for approving all nonfederal dams on navigable waters. The 1920 Federal Power Act shifted primary responsibility for the approval of such nonfederal dams to the Federal Power Commission after
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery Congress rejected federal coordinated development in favor of regulated private development (Holmes, 1972). Hydropower was considered a project purpose for most Bureau of Reclamation dams, and the revenue from hydropower sales was often used to help offset funding shortfalls in irrigation repayments. The Corps was also authorized to include hydropower as a project purpose, but only as a subsidiary to flood control or navigation. Taking advantage of the hydropower potential in the upper Missouri basin, private utilities had constructed several hydropower dams on the tributaries upstream from Fort Peck. THE PICK–SLOAN PLAN Setting and Impetus The most important and lasting alteration of the Missouri River ecosystem resulted from the Pick–Sloan Plan. Pick–Sloan was the product both of the Great Depression and the progressive conservation movement’s belief that multiple-purpose water projects would stimulate growth in the arid West (Hays, 1999). The gospel of the progressive movement was that growth would follow the “harnessing” of rivers. The Pick–Sloan Plan also reflected the arid lands reclamation movement, which was promoted at the turn of the century by irrigation enthusiasts like George Maxwell and William Smythe. Unsustainable agricultural practices on the Great Plains, an economic depression, and the prolonged drought in the 1930s that created the Dust Bowl focused the Bureau of Reclamation’s attention on additional storage and diversions in the Missouri basin. Bureau of Reclamation engineers subsequently developed plans for three large dams on the mainstem of the Missouri River downstream from Fort Peck, Montana, as well as for dams on the Yellowstone, Niobrara, Platte, Kansas, and Upper Missouri rivers and on several of the Missouri’s western tributaries. These proposed projects would irrigate more than 4 million acres in the basin, and an additional 1.4 million acres in the Souris–Red River basin (which lies north-east of the Missouri River basin) through inter-basin water transfers from the Missouri River basin. Proponents of these schemes believed that the projects would not only increase the extent of basin agriculture, but that they would also provide construction jobs for thousands of basin residents (Ferrell, 1993). As the drought of the 1930s began, it was apparent that even with the future construction of those dams, there would be insufficient water in the Missouri River to maintain a six-foot deep navigation channel. A 1932 Corps report proposed that it build a major dam on the Missouri River at Fort Peck, Montana. The dam was intended to store water that could be
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery released to supplement flows in the Missouri River downstream from Sioux City, Iowa (Ferrell, 1996). In 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which authorized the President to undertake public works projects. The Fort Peck project appeared to offer an opportunity to put people in the Upper Missouri basin to work and to support Missouri River navigation. Less than four months after the NIRA was enacted, President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed construction to begin on Fort Peck Dam. By 1939, the dam, then the largest in the basin, was completed and was beginning to store a planned 19.5 million acre-feet of Missouri River water. The dam was approved to provide flow for the authorized Missouri River navigation project and, when feasible, for the development of hydropower under the auspices of the Bureau of Reclamation. Merging the Plans of the Bureau and the Corps The Pick–Sloan Plan was an amalgam of separate Missouri River development plans prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers was proceeding with plans for flood-control and navigation-enhancement dams and reservoirs under the aegis of its Missouri River Division Engineer, Colonel Lewis Pick. The Corps’ plans responded to the devastating 1943 Missouri River floods and to lower basin navigation interests. The Bureau’s water development planning for the Missouri River basin was the responsibility of its regional director William Glenn Sloan. The Bureau’s chief goals were irrigation development and hydroelectric power generation. It proposed some ninety dams and reservoirs across the basin, along with several hundred irrigation projects covering 4.7 million acres, which would have doubled the basin’s irrigated acreage (Carrels, 1999). Both plans included several large mainstem reservoirs (Figure 2.2 shows the Pick Plan and the Sloan Plan). Both were presented to Congress at the same time that Congress was considering legislation to create a Missouri River Authority that would promote and coordinate comprehensive development. There was thus considerable pressure from President Roosevelt, basin water interests, and influential members of Congress to create a single basin development plan. (Support for Pick–Sloan was not unanimous, however. Native Americans were particularly opposed to it. See Box 2-1.) The similarities between the Pick Plan and the Sloan Plan enabled the two agencies to meet in Omaha, Nebraska in October, 1944 to quickly reconcile the differences between the two plans and combine them into a unified plan. Congress settled the jurisdiction of the two agencies: the Corps would build and operate the mainstem dams and the Bureau would allocate the water dedicated to irrigation. With this and other minor adjustments,
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery FIGURE 2.2 Proposed water projects under the Pick and Sloan Plans. SOURCE: Hart (1957).
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery Box 2.1 Native Americans and Pick–Sloan The Pick–Sloan Plan was widely supported by water interests throughout the Missouri River basin. Native American tribes, however, took a dim view of the project. The Missouri River floodplains were essential to the tribes. Although the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 had granted tribes a permanent homeland for their agricultural economy and culture along the Missouri River, little consideration was given to the tribes in the enactment of the 1944 legislation. The Pick–Sloan reservoirs displaced thousands of Native Americans from their lands. The five Corps of Engineers mainstem dams displaced roughly 900 Native American families (Lawson, 1982). Tribal groups affected were the Arikaras, Chippewas, Mandans, and Hidatas of North Dakota; the Shoshones and Arapahos of Wyoming; and the Crows, Crees, Blackfeet, and Assiniboines of Montana (Lawson, 1994). In total, the Missouri River mainstem dams flooded over one million acres, much of it belonging to Native Americans (Shanks, 1974). According to Lawson (1994), “The Pick–Sloan Plan . . . caused more damage to Indian land than any other public works project in America.” All the mainstem dams in North and South Dakota, except Gavins Point Dam, flooded the Native Americans’ most productive land and resulted in large numbers of ousted people. Garrison Dam submerged 155,000 acres on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The reservation ended up with five isolated areas of remnant upland plains. A total of 1,700 people were relocated, which represented 289 of the tribe’s 357 families. The tribe lost its winter grazing in the river bottom and 90 percent of its timber. Most of its lignite coal seams that provided heating fuel became inaccessible. Wild game, an important food source, was greatly diminished. Oahe Reservoir submerged the river bottoms of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations. 160,000 acres were covered and 351 families were relocated. Up to 90 percent of the timberland and 75 percent of the corn land were submerged. As at Garrison Dam, the tribes lost their winter grazing and their wild game food sources. Big Bend and Fort Randall dams dislocated families from the Yankton, Rosebud, Crow Creek, and Lower Brule Reservations. The dams flooded over 20,000 acres of tribal land, with 17,000 of those being inundated on the Crow Creek and Lower Brule reservations, where 120 families were relocated. The issue of compensation for the loss of their valued floodplains has not been resolved to the tribes’ satisfaction: “The tribes are still waiting for fair compensation for the lands taken, as well as water and electricity for homes on the reservation” (Thorson, 1994). Between 1947 to 1949, the tribes received $12.6 million for their lost lands (about $81 per acre) and various relocation costs. This level of compensation was viewed as inadequate and was partially rectified over forty later when, in 1991, Congress adopted the recommendations of the Garrison Diversion Unit Joint Tribal Advisory Committee and established a $149 million recovery fund (Thorson, 1994). Native Americans continue to be involved in the details of Pick–Sloan and Missouri River mainstem dam operations. For example, in October 2000 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Corps. The suit related to concerns about the impacts of the fluctuating levels of Lake Oahe on burial sites along the shoreline. The Corps and the tribe subsequently agreed on a settlement that will provide the tribe with an opportunity to help the Corps monitor and stabilize the sites and prevent further erosion (Jehl, 2000).
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery PHOTO 2.3 Oahe Dam (from Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library) PHOTO 2.4 Big Bend Dam (from Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library http://images.usace.army.mil/)
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery PHOTO 2.5 Fort Randall Dam (from Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library http://images.usace.army.mil/) PHOTO 2.6 Gavins Point Dam (from Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library http://images.usace.army.mil/)
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery TABLE 2.2 Missouri River Reservoir Features Reservoir (1) Storage capacity (1,000 acre-feet) (2) Maximum discharge capacity (cubic feet per second) (3) Lake shoreline length (miles) (4) Cumulative drainage area upstream (square miles) (5) Cumulative average upstream annual inflow (cfs) (6) Fort Peck Lake 18,688 291,000 1,520 57,500 10,200 Garrison Dam/ Lake Sakakawea 23,923 796,000 1,340 181,400 25,600 Oahe Dam/ Lake Oahe 23,338 245,000 2,250 243,490 28,900 Big Bend Dam/ Lake Sharp 1,874 373,000 200 249,330 28,900 Fort Randall Dam / Lake Francis Case 5,574 680,500 540 263,480 30,000 Gavins Point Dam / Lewis and Clark Lake 492 381,000 90 279,480 32,000 SOURCE: USACE, 1989. tial occurrence of snowmelt, ice jams, or heavy rainstorms. The Corps divides the storage capacity of each reservoir into zones, or pools ( Figure 2.4), and reserves space in each reservoir for flood control. Table 2.4 shows the flood control storage volume reserved in each reservoir, and also shows additional reservoir storage in the system allocated for other project purposes. • Water Supply and Irrigation. One of the authorized purposes of the mainstem reservoir system is to supply water for municipalities, industries, and irrigation throughout the basin. Irrigation was an integral component of the original system planning and design, pumps, diversions, and other water distribution facilities were planned and constructed to move water to farms in the basin. However, as Sveum (in Benson, 1988) noted,
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery FIGURE 2.4. Missouri River system reservoir storage allocation (values shown represent cumulative capacity of the six main-stem reservoirs). SOURCE: USACE, 1989. “lack of support and economic problems” have resulted in less than anticipated demand for water from Lake Sakakawea (Garrison Diversion Unit) and from the irrigation development at Oahe Dam. The latter was deauthorized and the former is not in full operation. Downstream from Sioux City, Iowa, 40 major municipal and industrial users depend on the Missouri River for water. Seventeen of the 40 users are municipalities that withdraw water for approximately 3.2 million people, 21 are power plants that withdraw water for cooling, and 2 are chemical manufacturers (GAO, 1992). • Navigation. The Missouri River navigation channel extends 735 miles upstream from the river’s mouth at St. Louis to Sioux City, Iowa. The Corps of Engineers’ Navigation Data Center reports that total downbound shipping in 1999 was 4.29 million tons and upbound shipping was 4.72 million tons (http://www.wrsc.usace.army.mil/ndc/). Shipping is seasonal and it typically extends from late March until late November or mid-December. During the remainder of the year, the possibility of ice blockage and floating ice prevents commercial navigation. Releases are made from the system reservoirs to support navigation. Fort Peck, Garrison, and Oahe dams provide about 88 percent of the total water storage capacity and thus play a significant role in supporting navigation. The multiple use zones in the reservoirs store water from year to year to support navigation when water in the annual operating zone is exhausted. • Hydropower. All reservoirs have facilities for hydropower generation, and the sale of the energy is a major revenue-producing system purpose. Installed power generation capacity of the reservoirs is shown in
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery TABLE 2.3 Missouri River Reservoir Operational Zones Zone (1) Use (2) Exclusive flood control …top zone in each reservoir…utilized only for detention of extreme or unpredictable flood flows, and is evacuated as rapidly as feasible within limitations imposed by considerations for flood control…[which] include project release limitations, status of storage in other main stem projects and the level of system releases being maintained… Flood control and multiple use …reserved annually for retention of normal flood flows and for annual multiple-purpose regulation of the impounded flood waters…this zone…will normally be evacuated to a predetermined level by about 1 March to provide adequate storage capacity for the flood season…evacuation of the flood control and multiple use storage capacity is scheduled to maximize service to the conservation functions. Carry-over multiple use …provides a storage reserve for irrigation, navigation, power production, and other beneficial conservation uses. At the major projects (Ft. Peck, Garrison and Oahe) the storage space in this zone will provide carry-over storage for maintaining downstream flows [for] below normal runoff years. It will be used to provide annual regulation in the event the storage in the annual flood control and multiple-use zone is exhausted. Inactive …provides minimum power head and sediment storage capacity. It also serves as a minimum pool for recreation, fish and wildlife, and assured minimum level for pump diversion of water from the reservoir…drawdown into this zone will not be scheduled except in an unusual emergency. SOURCE: USACE, 1979. Table 2.5. The Western Area Power Administration markets and transmits the power generated by the Missouri River reservoir system. • Fish and Wildlife. The Master Manual requires that “. . . the reservoirs will be operated for maximum benefit to recreation, fish and wildlife” to the extent possible, without interference with other project purposes. The manual acknowledges that fish production and development below the main stem projects are affected by reservoir levels and releases and makes provisions for operation of selected reservoirs to improve fishery
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery TABLE 2.4 Storage in Missouri River System Reservoirs Reservoir (1) Exclusive flood control storage (1,000 ac ft) (2) Flood control and multiple use storage (1,000 ac ft) (3) Fort Peck 974 2,718 Garrison 1,494 4,220 Oahe 1,097 3,186 Big Bend 60 117 Fort Randall 985 1,322 Gavins Point 60 92 SOURCE: USACE, 1989. TABLE 2.5 Hydropower Generation Capabilities of Missouri River Mainstem Reservoirs Reservoir (1) Dependable capacity (kW) (2) Average annual energy (106kWh) (3) Fort Peck 181,000 1,044 Garrison 388,000 2,354 Oahe 534,000 2,694 Big Bend 497,000 1,001 Fort Randall 293,000 1,745 Gavins Point 74,000 700 SOURCE: USACE, 1989. resources. For example, the Corps reported that on April 28, 2000, releases at Garrison Dam were reduced from 20,000 to 18,000 cubic feet per second to keep the reservoir level from falling during the smelt spawning period (Joe Pletka, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, personal communication, 2001). Even though the inflow into upstream reservoirs was at that time well below normal, this regulation provides for stable pools at both Lake Oahe and Lake Sakakawea. Similarly, the Master Manual acknowledges a need to operate the reservoirs for improving migratory waterfowl habitat. • Recreation. Public Law 78-534 or Public Law 99-662 authorize operation of the mainstem reservoirs for recreation. The Corps’ Summary of Actual 1999–2000 Operations report shows that during fiscal year 2000, public use at the mainstem lakes was more than 60 million visitor hours.
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery Recreational uses are particularly important at lakes Sakakawea, Oahe, Francis Case, and Lewis and Clark. Operational Procedures Operational guidelines The system reservoirs are operated following guidelines in a set of six individual reservoir regulation manuals and in the Master Manual. The individual reservoir regulation manuals describe how features of each reservoir that are not common to the system as a whole are to be operated, while the Master Manual prescribes the allocation of water and storage among the system’s hydraulically interconnected reservoirs. Interpretation and Operation According to Guidelines The Reservoir Control Center (RCC) of the Corps’ Northwestern Division in Omaha, Nebraska is responsible for interpreting the Master Manual guidelines and transforming the guidance into daily decisions about appropriate amount of water to release and store in the system’s reservoirs. System operation is guided by the Master Manual on two time scales: A seasonal scale stipulates storage and discharge targets for system water control. In terms of serving navigation, for example, the Master Manual stipulates that if the cumulative system storage as of March 15 each year is 54.5 million acre-feet or more, then the coordinated system should be operated to provide an average flow of 31,000 cubic feet per second at Sioux City, Iowa between March 23 and November 22 (USACE, 1979). Further, the seasonal guidelines require cumulative storage to be examined on July 1 each year to determine if the navigation season should be shortened. For example, if the cumulative storage on July 1 is 25 million acre-feet or less, support of the navigation season will terminate on September 7, rather than on November 22. Similar guidance in the Master Manual stipulates minimum daily flow requirements to maintain suitable downstream water quality each month at Sioux City, minimum releases for water supply, and so on. A daily-hourly scale determines actual storage and discharge values as a function of current availability and demands. Although the Master Manual provides guidance for system and individual reservoir operations, the Corps’ Reservoir Control Center staff in Omaha determines individual dam releases for all daily purposes, (or in the case of flood operations, hourly), based upon current conditions and projected inflow in the short term. For
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery example, the Master Manual calls for operation immediately following a flood with the following priorities: Evacuation of surcharge storage from all reservoirs; Evacuation of exclusive flood-control storage in Lewis and Clark, Francis Case, and Sharpe lakes; Evacuation of exclusive flood-control storage in Fort Peck, Sakakawea, and Oahe lakes; Evacuation of annual flood-control and multiple-use storage in Lewis and Clark and Francis Case lakes’ annual flood-control and multiple-use storage space above elevation 1360; Evacuation of annual flood-control and multiple-use storage in Fort Peck, Sakakawea, and Oahe lakes. But even with such specificity, actual releases and storages are not prescribed outright by the Master Manual or individual reservoir regulation manuals. Instead, the Reservoir Control Center staff reviews, on a daily or hourly basis, forecasts of future rainfall and runoff and observations of current conditions in the basin (including current storages and releases, uncontrollable inflows to the river in reaches between reservoirs, and current flooding at critical points). They then select actual releases to be made. This is complicated by the inability to perfectly forecast future inflows, and further complicated by the hydraulic interconnections of the reservoirs, as any outflow from an upstream reservoir is inflow to a downstream reservoir. The problem is thus not a simple problem of accounting for the inflow to, outflow from, and change in storage in a single reservoir. Instead, it is a problem of simultaneously finding the outflows from all reservoirs in the system to best achieve the system operation objectives—a set of objectives that is the subject of much disagreement. The drought of the late 1980s stretched the Corps’ ability to meet the variety of mainstem water demands, and the Corps ultimately decided to review the Master Manual. At the same time, the Missouri River basin states expressed concerns over priorities being assigned by the Corps to various water uses. Recreation and fish and wildlife interests argued that priority in water use for a dwindling navigation program was at their expense and represented an anachronism. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked the Corps to more carefully consider threatened and endangered species in its operations. As a result, the Corps in 1989 announced that it would conduct a major review of the Master Manual. Thirteen years later, this review is still under way. Several proposals have been offered by the Corps but have been quickly rejected by one or more of the interested parties.
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery In 1989, the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a series of consultations mandated by the Endangered Species Act. In 1990 and 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued biological opinions indicating that actions proposed by the Corps would place certain species in jeopardy. On receipt of these opinions, the Corps continued to develop alternative approaches to system operations. In April 2000, the Corps requested the Fish and Wildlife Service to formally consult on the operations of the Missouri River mainstem system, related operations of the Kansas River tributary reservoirs, and on the operations and maintenance of the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that continuation of current operations on the Missouri River was likely to jeopardize the continued existence of several listed species. In November 2000, the Corps’ Northwestern Division Engineer discussed the Corps position on the biological opinions of the Fish and Wildlife Service: There is significant agreement between the Corps and Service on the known biological attributes necessary to recover the listed species. . . . The Corps is absolutely committed to its role in recovery of the listed species but we also have an obligation to support other project purposes. . . . Our initial assessment is that elements of the biological opinion slightly increase the risk of flooding and are detrimental to navigation. As we develop our implementation plan we will evaluate the impact of the reasonable and prudent alternative on these and other project purposes. It is possible that the Corps will propose an alternative that meets the biological objectives with reduced impacts in other areas (Strock, 2000). The consultation continued at this report’s preparation. The Corps’ historic response to the consequences of its reservoir operations on fish and wildlife habitat has been to mitigate these consequences through a variety of means including habitat acquisition and restoration, enhancement of flows through side channels, and development of backwater areas. COMMITTEE COMMENTARY Water resources development activities in the Missouri River basin started nearly two centuries ago, soon after the Lewis and Clark expedition. These activities occurred when a national objective was to develop the natural resources of the western United States and to promote settlement. The Missouri River and its floodplain provided water, food sources, fertile agricultural lands, and a transportation corridor. Huge floods that resulted in losses of life and property were typical of the pre-regulation Missouri River.
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery During the nineteenth century, there was an emphasis on encouraging settlement in the Missouri River basin and other parts of the West. The promotion of irrigation thus became a national policy that was reflected in federal laws such as The Homestead Act of 1862 and the Reclamation Act of 1902. Native Americans were given little or no consideration in the political planning processes for Missouri River development. The Great Depression of the 1930s and a pronounced drought in the Midwest and Great Plains during this period had major impacts on the basin. The Fort Peck Dam was built as a Public Works Administration project to provide jobs and to promote navigation. At the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation was planning and developing irrigation and hydropower projects on Missouri River tributaries. During the same period, the Corps was considering flood-control dams for the basin. After congressional approval of the Pick–Sloan Plan, the Corps built five mainstem dams and assumed principal responsibility for operating them. The chain of Missouri River reservoirs and dams from Montana to South Dakota is one of the twentieth century’s engineering marvels. The dams’ modernistic architecture and their powerhouses testify to what was once a nearly unlimited faith in the ability of technology to bring progress to society. Pick–Sloan reflected the then almost universal faith in large dams to support and sustain regional development in areas not favored by climate and geography, and also not favored by the era’s unique political and social conditions. The Great Depression of the 1930s revived the construction of multiple-purpose dams begun during the Progressive Conservation Era in the first two decades of the century. Hopes of settling returning World War II veterans on family farms in the upper basin and the need to provide civilian jobs for the veterans excited planners and politicians. The merging of the Corps’ and the Bureau of Reclamation’s plans into the final Pick–Sloan Plan in a sense represented a marriage contract between two of the world’s most powerful water development agencies. Over the next two decades, much of the Pick–Sloan Plan was implemented to help realize a powerful vision, but one that was not fully attained. The dams and reservoirs only partially fulfilled their promise. Many citizens today are thus calling for a more comprehensive and balanced vision of the river’s role in the basin. The legal framework for the Missouri also changed with the emergence of environmental protection as a national goal. Virtually all of the nation’s environmental laws have been enacted since the initial decisions were made on Missouri River mainstem dam operations and priorities. Specific examples include the strengthened Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the Conservation, Protection, and Propagation of Endangered Species Act of 1973. When the mainstem dams were constructed, there was minimal consideration of
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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery environmental impacts. Since then, there has been a shift in emphasis in the United States from the development of water resources to better management of water resources in highly developed, mature systems like the Missouri River, and specifically to explore the prospects for restoring some level of ecosystem benefits that have often been diminished with river regulation. As there have also been large social and economic changes in the Missouri Basin over the past half-century, there is a clear need for a comprehensive review of operational priorities of the Missouri River dams that better reflects twenty-first century values and scientific knowledge. The lack of a well-structured, flexible, and updated mechanism for coordinating the current interests of the Missouri River basin states, tribes, federal and state agencies, and nongovernmental parties with stakes in dam and reservoir operations represents a barrier to resolving differences and improving environmental and operational conditions. The inability of basin stakeholders to reach consensus has made it difficult to arrive at an approach to river operations that will meet contemporary and future needs in the basin. This matter must be addressed in order to preserve the Missouri River ecosystem and to produce a broader range of ecosystem benefits formerly provided by the river.
Representative terms from entire chapter: