January 2013 IWLA Missouri River Initiative Report
By: Paul Lepisto – Regional Conservation Coordinator
The massive drought in the United States continues its grip and forecasters say there’s no end in sight. As of mid-January 70% of the continental U.S. was in drought or abnormally dry. The driest conditions exist in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and northwest Iowa. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its three-month outlook for February, March and April said no major change is expected.
With that forecast the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is predicting runoff into the mainstem Missouri River reservoir system will remain below normal. The 2013 runoff in the Missouri River above Sioux City is forecast to be 20.5 million acre feet (maf) or 82 percent of average. It’s expected when the runoff season begins March 1 the total volume of water stored in the mainstem reservoir system will be 8.5 maf below the top of the carryover multiple use zone. This is the reservoir system’s “bank account for drought” and it contains 38.9 maf of water when full. The multiple use zone provides service to the river’s congressionally authorized purposes during a drought. Those purposes are: flood control, navigation, water supply, irrigation, hydropower, recreation, water quality control, and fish and wildlife. The ACE used more than 22 percent of the water stored in the system last year.
2012 was the driest year in 118 years of recorded history for Nebraska, the 11th driest in Iowa and the 13th driest in South Dakota. Last year was the warmest year on record in Nebraska and South Dakota and the second warmest in recorded history in Iowa.
The National Disaster Recovery framework has been activated to deal with this large scale drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared disasters in 600 counties across the country this year. Meteorologists say parts of the Missouri River basin would need 10 feet of snow to make up the current soil moisture deficit. You can get more information at: http://www.drought.gov/.
Despite the low water levels and lingering drought the barge industry recently renewed its call for the release of Missouri River water to support Mississippi River navigation. Under existing law the ACE says it cannot legally release water from Missouri River reservoirs to benefit navigation on the Mississippi. The League supports the ACE’s stance.
Final 2012-2013 Annual Operating Plan released
The ACE’s Missouri River Basin Water Management Office has released the Final Annual Operating Plan for the Missouri River for 2012-2013. This outlines their planned management for the upcoming year. You can read it at: http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/aop.html.
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) Meets in Kansas
The MRRIC met in Overland Park, KS January 29th – 31st. At the meeting the committee agreed to develop a wide range of social and economic human objectives and see how those objectives will interact with potential Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) actions. The MRRP is designed to benefit three federally listed species, the pallid sturgeon, least tern and piping plover.
The ACE also asked the committee to begin to develop a recommendation on future water management that when combined with habitat improvements could improve pallid sturgeon reproduction in areas of the river. The ACE is asking MRRIC to have this recommendation done in time for development of the 2015 Missouri River Annual Operating Plan.
MRRIC also reached preliminary consensus on a new recommendation to the ACE asking them to develop a new policy regarding the utilization of conservation easements in the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri to help mitigate for alterations of the river. The ACE is required to acquire 166,750 acres of land along the lower river for fish and wildlife habitat. This is to recover losses suffered by the completion of the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Program from Sioux City to St Louis.
MRRIC is comprised of stakeholders, tribes, states and federal agencies throughout the Missouri River Basin. The committee is charged by Congress to provide guidance to the ACE and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the current MRRP. The next MRRIC meeting will be in Rapid City in May. I represent the League on the MRRIC and many of its work and task groups. You can learn more about the committee at http://www.mrric.org/.
Missouri River Events Planning Committee Meets
The planning committee for this year’s Missouri River Events met on January 22nd in Yankton. The members of the committee have made great progress on three Yankton area events. The 5th Annual Missouri River Watershed School Festival will be Friday, May 3rd. All the presenters are lined up for this year’s event and so far over 330 students from schools in SD and NE have confirmed their plans to attend. The Yankton Area Missouri River Clean up will be held Saturday, May 4th. This will be the 10th anniversary of this event. Also the 5th Annual Missouri River Clean Boat Event will be held May 11th to June 1st. This is an invasive species awareness event that teaches boaters and anglers about the threat of invasive species and how they can prevent their spread. The committee plans to meet again in February.
Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River
This new group met in Yankton on January 22nd. The purpose of the group is to promote, and protect the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR). The MNRR consists of two reaches of the Missouri, the 59 mile reach from Yankton to Ponca and the 39 mile reach from Fort Randall Dam to the headwaters of Lewis and Clark Lake. The group worked on developing a board of directors and an advisory board and also talked about a work plan for the coming year. The League, other groups and organizations and federal and state agencies are involved in the process.
News and Notes
Farm Bill Update
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed last year's Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill as a placeholder and said passing a new bill is a high priority. The Farm Bill authorizes and funds rural conservation and energy programs, as well as federal crop subsidies and food assistance programs.
House leaders did not bring the bill approved by the House AG Committee to a floor vote last year. Instead, an extension of the previous Farm Bill was passed as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal early this year. House agricultural leaders have said it’s likely to be a few months before they mark up a new farm bill because of fiscal- and budget-related legislation that Congress must deal with first.
The Farm Bill extension does not include a sodsaver provision. This means that thousands of acres of grassland habitat continue to be at risk of conversion to cropland due to high commodity prices and other financial incentives. Also the extension does not include reconnecting crop insurance premium subsidies with conservation compliance. This would require producers that take the subsidy to protect grassland and wetland habitats in exchange for lower cost crop insurance. This would be voluntary, but is an important component in the next Farm Bill.
The League has long supported a nationwide Sodsaver Provision and last summer at the Ikes National Convention in Lincoln endorsed re-linking conservation compliance to crop insurance premiums. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to support these and other conservation programs in the new Farm Bill.
Keystone XL Pipeline Update
Governor Dave Heineman approved a revised route for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.
Heineman sent a letter to President Obama and the Secretary of State saying state regulators concluded any environmental impacts from a spill from the line would be localized. The proposed pipeline operator TransCanada Corporation has agreed to deal with any spills.
TransCanada had to reroute the line in Nebraska after an earlier permit application was rejected due to concerns about its route which crossed the Ogallala Aquifer and environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region. The new route avoids the Sand Hills but still crosses part of the aquifer. Obama will decide whether the pipeline will get built. If constructed it would transport crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Texas. The State Department is completing an environmental impact statement to assess the line because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. A decision is expected in March.
Corn Ethanol Stresses Groundwater Supplies
A University of Iowa engineering professor is worried about the effect of corn ethanol plants have on water supplies. Professor Jerald Schnoor said ethanol production facilities require large amounts of water during the fermentation process. Iowa state geologists warned in 2009 that the Jordan aquifer was being pumped at an unsustainable rate.
Up to 40 percent of corn production in the United States now goes to ethanol fuel. Schnoor estimated that up to three-quarters of corn crops in his home state are devoted to ethanol production, stressing Iowa's groundwater sources. He cited the Lincolnway Energy Plant in Nevada, Iowa, as an example. This plant produces 50 million gallons of ethanol every year by processing 100,000 acres of corn requiring 200 million gallons of water per year.
SD Supreme Court Upholds Hyperion Air Quality Permit
The SD Supreme Court has upheld the SD Board of Minerals and Environment air quality permit in the application of Hyperion Energy Center - the proposed oil refinery in southeastern SD. The Sierra Club and two other groups had appealed an earlier decision claiming an environmental impact statement (EIS) was required prior to issuance of the permit and that the permit had expired due to Hyperion failing to begin construction. Hyperion also appealed the Board’s carbon monoxide emission limit.
The Court said an EIS was not required and there was no abuse of discretion in not ordering an EIS before issuing the air quality permit. The Court determined that given the activities associated with issuance of the air quality permit and the other regulatory and permitting requirements for the project, the decision not to order an EIS was reasonable. The Court also held the permit had not lapsed because Hyperion requested a construction deadline extension. The Court rejected Hyperion’s arguments regarding the carbon monoxide emission limit set by the Board.
New State Park Proposed for South Dakota
State officials are taking steps to make the Blood Run Nature Area along the Big Sioux River between South Dakota and Iowa a state park. Governor Dennis Daugaard introduced a bill to designate the 600-acre area as South Dakota’s 13th state park. The governor is asking for $2 million in general funds to make the first phase of improvements and build a visitors center. The $2 million in state funds will be matched with $2 million in private donations raised by the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. SDGF&P is also shifting $1 million from its budget to the project. The state opened the area for self-guided hikes and tours last summer. The area, used by thousands of Oneota Indians into the early 1700s, features a large oak forest, rolling hills, flood plains and riverside bluffs. The site has burial mounds and artifacts and is one of the oldest long-term habitation sites in America.
And finally, this item
Duck Hunt Brings Investigation
Workers at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station near Plymouth, MA recently notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Coast Guard and the Plymouth Police Department after hearing gunshots. Fearing the worst, an investigation found the shots came from two duck hunters in nearby Cape Cod Bay. The investigation showed the hunters were licensed and weren't in the designated security zone bordering the plant. The workers were repairing a water pump at the power station and the plant was not operating at the time.