Missouri River Funding Battle
Funding for the Missouri River Recovery Program remains largely unchanged for the rest of fiscal year 2012, which ends September 30th. In the recently passed omnibus spending bill the Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) received $71.43 million. The 2012 President's Budget request for the program was 72.889 million - that amount was approved by the full Senate and a House subcommittee. The final amount of $71.43 million was determined by a conference committee.
However, a policy rider offered by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt made its way into the final bill. The rider blocks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) from spending funds on the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan (MRERP). This is a long term (30-50 year) plan to recover and restore the habitat in and along the river destroyed by the ACE's operation of the river.
The rider also blocks ACE funding for the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS). MRAPS would be the first-ever comprehensive review of the eight authorized purposes of the Missouri River. This study began several years ago but has been on hold due to lack of congressional funding. The eight purposes as authorized in the 1944 Flood Control Act are: flood control, hydropower, recreation, water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife, irrigation, and navigation.
Other riders, which environmentalist deemed far worse, never made it in, including an amendment offered by Blunt that would have capped funding for the MRRP at $22 million and language to block the Obama administration efforts to expand Clean Water Act protections over streams and wetlands was eliminated.
To pay for recovery from this year's epic floods along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the bill gives the ACE an additional $1.7 billion in flood disaster-recovery money. That's up from the $1 billion in disaster-recovery money included in the committee-passed appropriations bill but still short of the $2 billion-plus that the ACE estimates total rebuild and recovery will cost. While damage assessment of levees and operating projects is still underway, current estimates to make all repairs in the Missouri River basin is expected to top $630 million. More than $120 million has already been received by the ACE for repairs in the Missouri River Basin.
Thanks to all of you that took time to contact your Senators and Representatives during this recent budget battle. Your help will be needed again this year as the League works with other groups to restore funding for MRERP, MRAPS, and continued strong funding and support for the MRRP.
Missouri River Flooding Update
ACE Release and Precipitation Update
During this year's Missouri River flood over 16 million acre feet (maf) of water was stored in the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System - an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land with water one foot deep. Reservoir storage peaked July 1 since then the ACE has evacuated over 15.4 maf of water and plans to release the remainder of the 16 maf by March 1st, the start of the 2012 runoff season. The ACE also said it will be flexible with their release rates this winter and next spring. In contrast to last year, precipitation so far is below normal over most of the Missouri River basin but the ACE said it's too early to tell what will materialize during the rest of the winter. South Dakota Climatologist Dennis Todey said there is "marginal to no snowpack" across the Plains. And December snow measurements in Montana's mountains have been average to a bit below average in the drainage areas that feed the Missouri. The ACE says reservoir levels are near the point whether they should be able to accommodate the projected runoff next spring. You can view the Rocky Mountain snowpack by going to: http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/snow.pdf <http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://distribution.mymediainfo.com/lists/lt.php?id=fB8JB1NVDVUEA08HUANbBk9WVFQABQM%253D> .
Missouri River Review Panel Releases Post Flood Report
An independent panel of experts said there was little the ACE could have done differently to prevent the Missouri River flooding this year. The panel included hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) the National Weather Service (NWS), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). They said the flood disaster in the Upper Midwest was "clearly an extreme event with the largest volume of annual runoff on record". In a report released December 19th the panel said that decisions by the ACEs' reservoir managers were in line with the agency's Master Manual, its water-control guide.
The Missouri River basin includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. The 2011 flood washed away roads, rail lines, flooded farmland and forced thousands of people from their homes, many of whom have yet to return.
Record heavy rains in the northern plains and snow melt runoff forced the Corps to release record volumes of water out of its six main stem reservoirs, causing historic and long term flooding. The report said "Barring an approved change in the Master Manual, the panel does not see how the Corps could have left substantially more storage available leading up to the flood".
The panel also recommended a review of the system's ability to store water, and improved future cooperation with weather forecasters. The report noted that while climate change is not fully understood, given that more extreme runoff events have occurred in recent decades the panel recommends reexamining Missouri River System planning based on the entire historical record dating back to 1898.
The panel also said the ACE could have greater flexibility "to adapt to varying climatic extremes."
The review panel members were:
-- Bill Lawrence, Meteorologist/Hydrologist - Arkansas-Red Basin River Forecast Center, NWS
-- Darwin Ockerman, Hydrologist, USGS
-- Cara McCarthy, Senior Forecast Hydrologist, NRCS - National Water and Climate Center
-- Neil Grigg, PhD, Professor of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University
The panel began its independent review on October 4th. The report can be found at http://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/docs/MRIn ... wPanel.pdf <http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/docs/MRIndependentReviewPanel.pdf> .
ACE Delays Release of Final Draft of Annual Operating Plan
The Annual Operating Plan (AOP) outlines the ACE management goals for the Missouri River. The ACE is still reviewing written and emailed comments on the draft AOP that they received during a series of public meetings held across the basin in October and November. The ACE decided to delay the release of the Final AOP to allow time to review the expert panel's recommendations and possibly incorporate changes into their 2012 operations. The ACE expects to release the Final AOP in early January.
ACE Plans to Increase Communication Effort
The ACE will begin regularly scheduled communication efforts during the 2012 runoff season. Starting January 6th, the ACE will hold conference calls every other week. The calls will include federal, state, county, local, Tribes, and emergency management officials, as well as independent experts and the media to discuss current river conditions. The ACEs' 2012 reservoir release plans and forecasts will also be updated and discussed. The ACE was widely criticized for their lack of communication prior to the 2011 flood.
Missouri River Senators Call for ACE Review
Senators from seven Missouri River states have asked the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine this summer's massive flooding. The request came in a letter sent by 13 senators, who are part of the Missouri River Working Group. They asked the GAO to look at the responses to the flooding and decisions made by the ACE. The senators requested GAO to make recommendations for improving flood control along the Missouri River.
Senators also requested that several issues be addressed in the review, including whether the ACE followed its Master Manual for the river and if the manual hindered timely response to the flooding. They asked the GAO to examine the timing of water releases from the reservoirs to determine if those releases contributed to the flooding.
In addition, the letter also asked the GAO to review what role assessments of meteorological forecasts and snowpack played in the flooding. Some senators also wanted to know what role recovery of three endangered species, environmental concerns, and flooding on the Mississippi River played in the 2011 Missouri River flood.
Missouri River Flood Task Force
Following this year's flood a coalition of federal, state, tribal and non-profit groups formed to address short and long-term floodplain management challenges. The Missouri River Flood Task Force (MRFTF) held its second meeting December 12th in Overland Park, Kansas. I'm on the Task Force and two of its Work Groups and participated in this meeting via teleconference and webinar.
The goal of the MRFTF is to reduce flood-associated risks as much as possible by the beginning of the 2012 runoff season and also conduct long-term recovery activities in the Missouri River Basin. River bed degradation and sediment deposition due to the river's high flows this summer were discussed. Record high ground water levels, still present in many areas along the river, was mentioned as a possible cause of future damage to homes and infrastructure along the river if affected areas experience a severe winter.
The MRFTF is chaired by three federal agencies: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the NRCS and the ACE. The MRFTF's Work Groups will continue meeting via conference calls and the full MRFTF will meet again in late February. Learn more at: http://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/mrftf/ <http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://distribution.mymediainfo.com/lists/lt.php?id=fB8JB1RQDlAAA08HUQdXBU9WVFQABQM%253D> .
More Problems at Flood-idled Nebraska Nuke Plant
Regulators have found new problems at a Nebraska power plant that suffered flood damage earlier this year, prompting closer scrutiny to the plant located north of Omaha. The tougher oversight will likely further delay the restart of the Omaha Public Power District plant in Fort Calhoun, which was scheduled to come back online early in 2012.
The plant has been shut down since April for refueling. Flooding along the Missouri River forced it to remain shutdown as water surrounded the plant. The new problems include deficiencies in the Omaha Public Power District's emergency response and a design or installation flaw that contributed to a June fire at the plant.
Inspectors also found problems with the utility's analysis of how the plant would withstand various accident conditions, such as earthquakes, tornadoes or loss of coolant. None of these problems represents a public safety threat according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The plant already faced increased oversight after a key electrical part failed during a test in 2010 and deficiencies were found in flood planning. These problems placed Fort Calhoun as one of only two nuclear power plants in the country at level four of NRC's oversight system.
This move places Fort Calhoun in a special category for plants that are shut down, giving regulators broad authority to conduct inspections.
Farming After the Flood Webinar Held
A "Farming after the Flood" webinar on available federal financial assistance and conservation programs for farmers impacted by this year's flood was held at 24 sites throughout the basin on December 14th. I attended at the SD State Extension Office in Pierre. The webinar was sponsored by the ACE, NRCS and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland was flooded along the river this year. To learn more about the effort go to: http://flood.unl.edu/crops <http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://distribution.mymediainfo.com/lists/lt.php?id=fB8JB1RQDlAAAE8HUQdXBU9WVFQABQM%253D> .
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC)
MRRIC members as part of the committee's Work Groups continued working on assignments in December. Also the ACE began a series of meetings with MRRIC members and others designed to help develop the Social, Cultural, and Economic (SCE) Baseline Assessment an important component of the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan (MRERP). The information received during these special meetings will be summarized and compiled for use by the ACE in the MRERP planning process.
MRERP is a long term restoration plan to recover and restore habitat lost along the river since it was dammed and channelized. Over 3 million acres of aquatic and terrestrial habitat has been destroyed. This loss has led to dramatic declines in fish and wildlife populations including three species, the Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Pallid Sturgeon, being listed on the federal Endangered Species List.
MRRIC is a 70 member committee made up of federal, state, tribal, and stakeholder representatives from throughout the basin. The committee is charged with providing recommendations to the ACE and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the current Missouri River Recovery Program and MRERP.
As stated earlier in this report, a rider in the spending bill prohibits the ACE from using any funds on MRERP the rest of the 2012 fiscal year. ACE leadership will meet in early January to discuss what implications that provision has on future MRERP activities for this coming year. I represent the League on MRRIC and many of its Work Groups. To learn more about the committee go to: www.mrric.org <http://www.mrric.org/> .
Missouri River Events Planning Committee Meets
The Missouri River Events Planning Committee met December 19th at the National Park Service Office in Yankton. The committee reviewed progress and continued work on items for the three scheduled Missouri River related 2012 events.
The Missouri River Watershed School Festival will be held on May 4th. High school students will attend river-related presentations geared towards raising their awareness of the Missouri River and the many issues it is facing.
The Yankton area Missouri River Clean up will be held May 5th many volunteers will be needed again this year, especially following the 2011 flood.
The Clean Boat Event will be held again in 2012. This is an educational event designed to raise awareness of invasive species, especially Zebra Mussels and Asian Carp, among boaters and anglers along the Missouri River.
This year instead of just a one day event the Planning Committee is working to set up multiple days where teams will distribute information and talk with boaters about the threat invasive species pose and how their spread can be prevented with a few simple steps. Asian Carp and Zebra Mussels exist below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton but have not spread into Lewis and Clark Lake or the other Missouri River reservoirs.
The Planning Committee will continue to working on the three activities in 2012. We will meet as needed to get things set for the upcoming events.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Update
On December 16th Doug Kluck from the NOAA's National Climatic Data Center presented an update on the 2011-12 winter/spring weather forecasts for the Missouri River Basin. This was the second in a series of regular updates from NOAA.
Kluck said the basin is currently dryer and warmer than it was a year ago with less plain and Rocky Mountain snow pack. The Climatic Data Center is still holding firm to their earlier forecast of a cooler-wetter winter and spring due to the influence of a La Nina weather system again this year. Kluck did say that the La Nina appears to be weakening and that may change things for the basin this winter, but he said the effects of a La Nina are typically felt from January to March. As of now, parts of the eastern and southern basin are in a drought, but we have a long way to go this winter and that could change quickly. The next update will be January 20th and NOAA will also start regular Missouri River Flood forecasts starting in late January or early February.