October 2012 IWLA Missouri River Initiative Report
By: Paul Lepisto – Regional Conservation Coordinator
Table of contents
Missouri River Update
Missouri River Flood Vulnerability Report
US Army Corps of Engineers Annual Operating Plan
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee Meets
Sioux City Clean Up Event
Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River Meeting
News and Notes
Missouri River Update
Severe drought conditions continue in many areas of the Missouri River Basin. Record low inflows of under 0.3 million acre feet (an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep) came into the system during September. The previous record low was 0.4 million acre feet set in 1919. Runoff into the Missouri River basin above Sioux City during September was 25 percent of normal, down from 64 percent of normal during August. The updated annual runoff forecast for the year is now 19 million acre feet - 77 percent of normal.
The drought is affecting the reservoir system two ways - less water coming in and more water going out. The drought in the lower basin has reduced tributary flows below Gavins Point Dam so the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is running higher than normal releases from all the dams to meet navigation flows of 41,000 cubic foot per second (cfs) at Kansas City. System storage on October 1st was 52.2 million acre feet, down from 54.3 maf on September 1st. 52.2 maf in storage is 4.6 maf below the base of the flood control and multiple use zone which is the desired operating pool for the system. This allows the ACE to fully serve all eight congressionally authorized purposes of flood control, hydropower, recreation, irrigation, water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife and navigation.
The ACE continues a full navigation season that runs through December 1st despite the low runoff. This follows the Master Manual - the water control plan used by the ACE. Full service flows provide a 9-foot-deep by 300-foot-wide navigation channel from Sioux City to St Louis with or without any barge traffic on the river. The ACE says drought conservation measures will begin to be implemented and will be run through the end of February to conserve water in the reservoirs.
The current water forecast for next spring indicates system storage at the start of the runoff season will be about 8 maf below the base of the flood control and multiple use zone. If this holds, additional water conservation measures, outlined in the Master Manual, will be implemented including beginning the 2013 navigation season with reduced flow support. The upper three reservoirs, Fort Peck, Sakakawea, and Oahe may be drawn down as much as 10 feet below their desired level. This will impact other authorized purposes including recreation. The ACE says they will have a better understanding of needed measures by March 1st which is the start of the 2013 runoff season.
The ACE also released of billions of gallons of water from Kansas reservoirs this summer to support dwindling barge traffic. That angered people who say those reservoirs are vital to their businesses. Kansas state officials questioned the benefit of releasing water from Perry, Tuttle Creek and Milford reservoirs, where tourism brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Only about 200 barges have traveled the Missouri River to Kansas City so far this year. That’s less than a tenth of what once used the channel. In comparison, about 40,000 barges go past St. Louis most years on the Mississippi River.
More than three-quarters of Nebraska is in exceptional drought - the most drastic level on the US Drought Monitor. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL) it’s the highest level of drought ever recorded in the state. Overall, the drought has eased a bit through Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri but conditions have worsened in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Over 50 percent of the contiguous United States is still in moderate drought conditions or worse. The US Agriculture Department has declared a disaster for more than 1,000 counties nationwide.
Scientists at UNL also say states in the Great Plains and Midwest are getting warmer. The region's average temperature has risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 115 years. The highest average temperature increase occurred in North Dakota, with a 5 degree jump. South Dakota has seen the largest rise in the wintertime increases with a 4 degree increase. Nebraska has seen a 2 degree increase. UNL data show that planting dates are occurring earlier in the six-state region of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and Colorado. The research also shows higher nighttime low temperatures
The likelihood of 2012 being the warmest year on record across the continental United States is rising. Temperatures from January to September have averaged 59.8 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 3.8 degrees above the 20th-century average. This year will escape getting this record only if the last quarter of the year is among the 10 coldest ever recorded.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) meteorologists say this winter is expected to be warm and dry in many parts of the country including the Missouri River basin. The December-to-February outlook is still a bit uncertain because a developing El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific has abruptly fizzled. Usually, forecasters have a good picture of the factors that will influence the upcoming winter by mid-October. In June, NOAA projected a 50 percent chance that a weak-to-moderate El Niño would emerge this winter but, development of the weather pattern has faded. This is puzzling scientists who study El Niño and its counterpart, La Niña weather patterns. NOAA said this year is unique in 60 years of data. The outlook projects a warmer-than-average winter for areas including the Central and Northern Plains and the Northern Rockies. The forecast offers little immediate hope for relief from the drought which is far-reaching and intense and it's not going to just go away.
State climatologists and NOAA provided a drought update conference call on October 18th. They predicted the Midwest drought is likely to persist. They also said that topsoil moisture is rated as short or very short over 98% of NE, 95% of SD and 93% of IA. Their computer models predict above normal temperatures for the region at least through the month of November.
Changes to the Walleye Limit Possible for Lake Oahe
Changes may be coming in South Dakota’s fishing regulations for Lake Oahe next year. The SD Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) Commission is considering allowing anglers to take more walleyes from the massive Missouri River reservoir. Oahe lost much of its forage fish, including rainbow smelt, to the record releases through Oahe Dam during last year’s flood. Smelt are the primary food source for walleyes in Oahe. Biologists believe many of Oahe’s larger walleyes will die of starvation in the coming year.
The proposed regulations would allow anglers to keep eight walleyes per day, up from the current limit of four, from Oahe. That limit, if approved, would also allow more than one walleye over 20 inches a day. In the proposal of the eight fish four would need to be shorter than 15 inches. The proposed change would also increase the possession limit to 24 walleyes. Oahe has seen high reproduction of walleyes in previous years and the population is out of balance with the declining food base. Biologists want to see more small walleyes harvested from the reservoir.
Angling pressure on Oahe in 2012 was above average at 1.2 million angling hours compared to the annual average of .95 million hours. Walleye catch rates in 2011 and 2012 were the two highest recorded at 1.3 and 1.6 walleye per person per hour - many times the national average. This resulted in 3.75 million walleye caught from April through August in 2011 and 2012, far surpassing any 2 year catch rate. This year 610,000 walleye were harvested from Oahe from April through August with the current four fish/day limit. This was second to, and only 6,000 fish less than in, 2001 when a 14 fish limit was in place. Harvest for 2011 and 2012 combined was 1.15 million walleye, far surpassing any previous two year harvest estimates.
Oahe walleye abundance in 2011 and 2012 were two of the top five highest on record. This included two of the three highest abundances ever recorded of 10-15 inch walleyes. The condition for all walleye size classes was lower than all previous years with the exception of 2000. Biologist are concerned about the slow drop in condition of the 10-15 inch walleye resulting in the second lowest year of condition for that size class. Also in 2012, the fourth lowest warm water prey fish abundance was recorded and both young of the year and adult rainbow smelt had the 3rd lowest population estimates since 2000. Biologists say the proposed regulations aren’t an attempt to “fix” the unbalanced predator/prey ratio in Oahe but are an attempt to utilize an abundant resource without doing harm to the resource. The SDGF&P Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations November 1st in Madison, SD.
ACE Awards Flood Repair Contracts
The last contracts to repair damages from the 2011 flood have been finalized by the ACE. Work on 15 levee systems is scheduled to be completed by spring. The ACE has closed five levee breaches along the Missouri River from Omaha/Council Bluffs to below the Missouri state line. The costs of these contracts totaled $360 million. Levee rehabilitation work came to $160 million and repairs to damages at the six mainstem dams totaled $200 million. The work at the dams will be complete by the end of 2014.
ACE Announces New Interactive Tool for MRRP Effort
The Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) has launched a new interactive tool - the Missouri River Basin Explorer. It’s designed to provide information on the river’s natural environment and the efforts of the MRRP. The Basin Explorer describes how the Missouri River system works, the challenges it’s facing and what the ACE is doing to address those challenges. The Basin Explorer is organized by geographic regions with graphic and connections between the natural environment, endangered species, challenges and solutions and it’s accessible to everyone. View the Basin Explorer at http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir. ... QABQM%253D.
Missouri River Flood Vulnerability Report
The ACE released a report on findings on the remaining vulnerabilities in the Missouri River Basin following last year’s flood. The report said that absolute flood protection for the Missouri River Basin is not possible. The basin needs to plan and prepare for future flooding events. The report said that storage in the reservoir system is just one piece of the solution. Increasing the carrying capacity of the floodway and reducing encroachment in the floodplain are two ways to reduce flood risk. Land use management and regulation of development within designated floodplains, the responsibilities of state and local governments, needs to be done. The ACE said a Missouri River Watershed Flood Risk Reduction study to consider more opportunities for water storage and improved floodway conveyance could be done.
Studies are planned to look at whether climate change played a role in the flooding and if man-made habitat designed to help fish and wildlife contributed in any way to levee damage in the lower basin. The report said more monitoring is needed on frost depth and water content in snow. The ACE is considering more snow measurement stations and flow gauges on the Missouri River. Between 1990 and 2010, 387 gauges that were monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey have been discontinued and seventeen other gauges now provide less information. The vulnerability study said reducing flow measurements of the Missouri and its tributaries decreases the accuracy of information needed to operate the system. Read a summary of the report at: http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ ... l1/id/2187.
US Army Corps of Engineers Annual Operating Plan
The ACE held a series of public meetings in six Missouri River basin cities in late October to present their 2012-2013 Draft Annual Operating Plan (AOP) for the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System. The ACE also held an AOP meeting in conjunction with the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) Meeting in Omaha on the 24th. As mentioned earlier in this report the Draft AOP says there will be low runoff into the basin for the rest of this year and into early next spring. If runoff in the upper basin remain below normal the ACE said they will implement additional water conservation measures and reduce the length of the 2013 navigation season. You can read the draft plan at: http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/re ... 2-2013.pdf and provide comments on it at: Missouri.Water.Management@nwd02.usace.army.mil through November 23rd.
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee Meets in Omaha
MRRIC held its 19th meeting October 23rd–25th in Omaha. The Committee reached final consensus on a recommendation to ACE and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the Fiscal Year 2013 Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) work plan. Final consensus was also reached on a recommendation to ACE and FWS regarding efforts to save and enhance tern and plover nesting habitat and sediment resources created on the river during 2011 flood. MRRIC discussed other issues critical to management of the Missouri River system including the continued drought, the proposed sale of surplus water and possible reallocation of water from the reservoir system. MRRIC reappointed Dr. Michael Mac as the Chair and approved Frank Pogge from Kansas City as Vice Chair for the upcoming year.
Dave Ponganis of the Northwestern Division of the ACE said MRRIC is unique and the ACE doesn't work with anything like it anywhere else in the country. He said the committee has "changed the way we (the ACE) do business".
Ponganis also talked about the Continuing Resolution (CR) that Congress passed that may run through the end of March if Congress can’t pass a budget. Under a CR the ACE has to follow the lower amount from legislation pending in Congress. Earlier this year a Senate subcommittee approved $90 million for the MRRP as requested in the President’s Budget. The House approved $50 million. The ACE will operate under the $50 million figure until further action is taken on the 2013 budget.
MRRIC is a 70-member committee comprised of stakeholders and representatives of Tribal, state and federal agencies throughout the Missouri River Basin. I represent the League on the Committee and many of its work groups. MRRIC provides recommendations to the ACE and the FWS on river recovery plans. You can learn more at: http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir. ... QABQM%253D or http://mail.iwla.org/exchweb/bin/redir. ... QABQM%253D.
Sioux City Clean Up Event
The first annual “Trash and Treat” Missouri River Clean up Event was held in the Sioux City area on Saturday, October 20th. 35 volunteers turned out on a cool, crisp morning and in a little over two hours picked up over a ton of litter and debris, including scrap iron and tires. The clean up focused on the trails along both sides of the river. The event was coordinated this year by the cities of Sioux City and South Sioux City and by Keep Nebraska Beautiful. This was the first time the Siouxland Clean-up was held in the fall. Next year the event will be held on September 14th so please mark the date on your calendars.
Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River Meeting
The first meeting of the Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River was held October 30th at the National Park Service office in Yankton. The organizational meeting brought together a wide variety of groups and individuals from South Dakota and Nebraska interested in the health and future of the river. More work is needed to get the group up and running but there was high interest from those attending so that another meeting will be scheduled later this year. The group will work on many river-related issues.
News and Notes
Farm Bill Update
When Congress returns to Washington DC following the election, it’s hoped the US House will take up work on the Farm Bill. It’s not known if they will try to pass a short term extension of the Farm Bill that expired on September 30th or a new bill. The Senate overwhelmingly passed their version of the bill this spring. House leadership has been unwilling to bring the bill to the floor even though the House AG Committee approved their version of the bill. House Speaker John Boehner has said the House will take up the Farm Bill when members return for the lame duck session in November and December.
Farm bills typically are written and passed every 5 years. Farm Bills contain a provision that says if the bill is allowed to expire farm law automatically reverts back to what’s known as “permanent law”. This means reverting back to set of laws from 1949. Most farmers will not be immediately affected by the expiration of the Farm Bill. Crop insurance continues, and price supports for corn, wheat, and rice don’t kick in until spring. If the House doesn’t act, dairy programs will revert back to permanent law starting January 1st which could impact the dairy industry—price supports for milk could go up sharply.
On the conservation side the US Department of Agriculture’s working lands programs - the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Farmland Protection Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program won’t expire until 2014. But, other conservation programs will be affected in the next few months. Without an extension or a new bill, no contracts can be written for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and former IA Governor, Tom Vilsack has said a coupling federal crop insurance premiums and conservation compliance “just isn’t going to happen” in any new farm bill to be debated after the election. Conservation compliance would make environmental rules mandatory for farmers to qualify for federally subsidized crop insurance. Some conservation and environmental groups say the Secretary’s assessment is not correct.
The Senate version of the farm bill contains the conservation rider. The crop insurance section in the farm bill hasn’t had a conservation compliance requirement since 1996. The League and other groups have argued that taxpayers deserve mandatory conservation requirements in return for the billions in federal crop insurance subsidies provided to farmers.
Your help is critical in the Farm Bill debate. Email or call your US Representative and Senators and ask them to support the re-coupling of conservation compliance to crop insurance, a national sodsaver provision to protect America’s grasslands, and adequate funding for conservation programs. Clean air, water, and healthy fish and wildlife populations depend on it.
Clean Water Act Celebrates 40th Anniversary
Forty years ago on October 18th with bipartisan support Congress overwhelmingly overrode a Nixon presidential veto and passed the Clean Water Act of 1972. Hunters and anglers have strongly supported Clean Water Act protections knowing that clean water, healthy wetlands and streams are essential to fish and wildlife populations and quality habitat. A recent poll found that, regardless of political affiliation, 79 percent of hunters and anglers favor restoring Clean Water Act protections to wetlands, waterways, small creeks and streams.
The clean water celebration is bittersweet. For the past decade, Clean Water Act protections for wetlands, lakes and streams have been under constant attack. Especially in the past two years members of Congress, despite overwhelming public support for clean water and healthy habitat, have attempted to weaken the Act’s protections. These attacks jeopardize drinking water for 117 million Americans and accelerate wetland losses that damage hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. According to a recently released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, millions of Americans spend $145 billion annually on hunting, angling, and wildlife watching. This represents direct spending only, and each dollar spent in local restaurants, on guides and outfitters, and on equipment generates even more for our economy.
Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program Celebrates Anniversary
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has celebrated its 75th anniversary. The program helps fund fish and wildlife management across the country. Hunters and anglers provide most of the funds for management of fish and wildlife and this federal funding provides additional money.
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program was started in 1937. Congress worked with sportsmen and sporting goods manufactures to begin a hunting equipment excise tax that would be paid by the manufacturers. A similar tax on fishing equipment was added in 1950. Since the program began more than $13 billion has been distributed to state game and fish agencies across the nation to help fund management programs. It’s very important that programs like this remain true to their cause. Don’t allow politicians to “rob” this fund for anything else. The money raised through this program should only be spent for fish and wildlife management.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association outdoor recreation is big business. A recent study shows it is worth $646 billion annually in direct sales and employs 6.1 million people. When that money is spent through the economy, it creates $1.6 trillion in impact and contributes to 12 million jobs. Despite the recession, outdoor recreation has continued to grow in popularity. More than 140 million Americans participate in recreational opportunities that our country offers. The continued growth and success of the important American recreation industry depends on recreational opportunities for everyone.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) Update
SD Game, Fish and Parks is encouraging people to send in their East River deer tags so deer numbers can come back. Many areas have been hit hard with EHD or bluetongue disease. Hunters can submit their licenses for refund up until the start of the gun season. This year’s SD East River deer season runs from November 17th to December 2nd. Hunters are urged to check with landowners or scout the areas they plan to hunt on the status of the deer herd going into the gun season. If you want a refund send your license, including all associated tags, to: GF&P Licensing Office; 20641 SD Highway 1806; Fort Pierre, SD 57532.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commissioners also have approved staff recommendations to reduce 2012 antlerless deer hunting permits at their October 26th meeting in North Platte. The action was taken to reduce harvest in areas with substantial losses from EHD. Permit reductions of 20 to 50 percent were approved for 18 antlerless-only units. The River Antlerless permit quota also changed from “unlimited” to 4,500 permits. EHD is a viral disease spread by biting midges. The total effect of the disease on the deer population will be better known following the deer season.
Keystone XL Pipeline Update
Nebraska environmental regulators have released a preliminary 600-page report on an oil pipeline that TransCanada, a Canadian company, wants to build. The report doesn't include a recommendation about whether the pipeline should be built across Nebraska. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta and the Bakken Development in North Dakota and Montana to the Gulf Coast running through South Dakota and Nebraska. The report says the new revised route avoids the environmental sensitive Sandhills region and addresses a number of other concerns that have been raised. A public hearing on the project will be held in Albion on December 4th.
Hunters Can Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species – From: NGPC
Invasive species jeopardize vital fish and wildlife habitat and threaten the future of hunting and fishing. It’s critical to protect the habitats that support wildlife and fisheries. Invasive Phragmites and purple loosestrife along shorelines have devastated waterfowl habitat. Waterfowl hunters need to thoroughly clean waders, boots, decoys, boats, dogs, clothing and anything else that came into contact with water. Remove all mud and vegetation and only use native plants when making blinds. Upland and big game hunters should avoid driving or walking through areas infested with invasive species and clean mud, seeds, and vegetation off your vehicle, dogs, boots and other equipment.
“Invasive species cost the Midwest millions of dollars in damages and management efforts each year,” Nebraska Invasive Species Project Coordinator Karie Decker said. “Sportsmen, more than any other group, are uniquely positioned to expand and promote the fight against invasive species. If you come across invasive species, let us know. Reporting problem areas will help us maintain healthy habitats.” For more information, or to report an invasive species, visit the Nebraska Invasive Species Project at http://snr.unl.edu/invasives.
Voters will Decide if Right to Hunt Should be Guaranteed in the Nebraska Constitution
Nebraska voters will decide on Election Day whether a right "to hunt, to fish and to harvest wildlife'' should be part of the Nebraska Constitution. Amendment 2 also would make public hunting, fishing and harvesting of wildlife a "preferred means'' of managing and controlling wildlife. Hunting and fishing are part of the state's legacy of conservation and they are big business. Hunters and anglers spent $709.1 million on trips, equipment and other related expenditures in Nebraska last year.
Nebraska is one of four states that will consider protecting hunting and fishing rights in their constitutions in the election, the others are Idaho, Kentucky and Wyoming. No organized efforts have emerged either for or against the Nebraska amendment. It has the support of the Nebraska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, the Izaak Walton League, Ducks Unlimited, the Nebraska Council of Sportsmen's Club, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters, the Nebraska Sportsmen's Foundation and the Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
IA River Group Asks for $2 Million in River Programs
Iowa Rivers Revival, a river-advocacy organization, citing a new Iowa State University study that shows river recreation pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into Iowa communities and supports thousands of jobs, is asking the Governor and Iowa lawmakers to invest $2 million next year for river programs. The programs would create safer, cleaner rivers and streams, and more recreational activities and access.
The new ISU economic study shows outdoor recreation is a big contributor to Iowa’s economy with over $500 million per year in recreational spending on Iowa’s rivers and streams. That spending supports almost 5,000 jobs in Iowa and $143 million of personal income. IRR sent letters and emails to the Governor and legislative candidates providing the ISU study and asking them to appropriate $2 million next year to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources specifically for the state’s rivers.
The 2012 ISU study is called “The Economic Value of Outdoor Recreation Activities in Iowa”. It updates a 2007 study and examines the economic impact of recreational spending generated by activities including fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, visiting state and local parks and Iowa’s lakes and rivers. For river recreation alone, the study estimates there was total direct recreational spending of $520 million in 2010 related to 73 different segments of rivers and streams in the state.
And finally these two items….
Security Guard Gets Unwanted Visitor
A guard at a Utah copper mine experienced an unprovoked and unusual attack from a seemingly healthy coyote in early October. The woman was at the entrance of a facility near Salt Lake City when a coyote entered through the door of a security booth. The coyote lunged at the woman and bit her several times on her forearm. The woman was able to get the coyote out of the booth and called for help. A police officer responded and shot the animal. Officials thought the coyote may be rabid so the animal’s head was sent to a Utah Department of Health lab for testing which were negative. The lady had to get stitches at a nearby medical center. Officials say this was a rare and strange incident. With rabies ruled out they remain puzzled as to what led the coyote to attack.
Eagles Released at Sand Lake Refuge
The FWS recently released two rehabilitated golden eagles back into the wild in northeastern South Dakota. The eagles had been sickened by parasites, infections and malnutrition. The birds were brought to the Oahe Wildlife Center in Pierre in July where they were nursed back to health. About 400 people watched the release of the eagles at the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge.