October 2013 Missouri River Initiative Report
By: Paul Lepisto – Regional Conservation Coordinator
Government Shutdown – Impacts
The Senate and House agreed on a last minute deal that reopened the government
and postponed defaulting on our national debt. The bill combined a continuing
resolution, funding the government through mid January, and suspended the debt
ceiling until February 7th. The agreement created a conference committee to
negotiate a long-term budget by mid-December. The Senate voted 81-18, the House
285-144 to approve the deal. The 16 day government shutdown cost our economy an
estimated $24 billion.
States spent millions to operate national parks during the federal shutdown and
it’s not known if they will get paid back. Utah spent $1.6 million, Arizona
$700,000, and Colorado, South Dakota, New York, Tennessee and North Carolina
spent significant amounts to reopen national parks. Congress has to decide when
and if they reimburse the money. The 800,000 federal workers furloughed during
the shutdown received back pay. Congress continued to get their paychecks
throughout the shutdown.
The deal also included a provision for a $1.2 billion funding increase to the
Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) for a troubled Ohio River navigation project, the
Olmsted Dam, on the Illinois-Kentucky border. The project has seen construction
cost estimates rise from $775 million in 1988 to $3 billion today. The
construction costs were to be split 50-50 between federal tax dollars and
navigation user fees. Under the House bill 75% of the costs will now be paid by
federal tax dollars and in the Senate version 100% of the costs would be paid by
federal tax dollars. The provision has been nicknamed “The Kentucky Kickback”.
Shutdown Cancels Meetings and a Missouri River Clean up
The government shutdown forced the ACEs’ Missouri River Basin Water Management
Office to cancel five public meetings on the Draft Annual Operating Plan (AOP)
at which they explain their proposed management for the coming year. Instead,
the ACE held a conference call October 28th. In the 2013-2014 Draft AOP the ACE
anticipates low runoff into the basin for the remainder of this year. The ACE
expects system storage to be below the base of the annual flood control pool at
the start of the 2014 runoff season, which begins March 1st. All the scenarios
in the Draft AOP indicate reduced flow support for next year’s navigation
You can see the AOP at: http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/re ... 3-2014.pdf.
The comment period is open until November 15th. Email your comments on the AOP
to the ACE at: Missouri.Water.Management@nwd02.usace.army.mil<mailto:Missouri.Water.Management@nwd02.usace.army.mil>.
The final AOP will be released in December.
The shutdown forced the National Park Service (NPS) to cancel a Missouri River
Clean up scheduled for October 5th near Niobrara, NE. The shutdown postponed a
SD Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetland Committee meeting on
October 9th in Huron. The shutdown also postponed a meeting to start the process
of updating South Dakota’s Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan.
Missouri River Conditions Update
The ACE continues conservation measures on the Missouri River even with recent
higher than average precipitation. October may end up being one of the five
wettest Octobers on record. Heavy snow fell in portions of five states (see
related items below). The Ace says runoff in the Missouri River Basin above
Sioux City this year will now be near or even above average. Despite the wet
fall the impacts of the widespread drought continue. The levels in the largest
three reservoirs, Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe, are still 3 to 10 feet below
desired elevations. The ACE plans lower winter releases of 12,000 cubic feet
per second (cfs) from Gavins Point Dam on the SD-NE border December through
February. When adequate water exists in the system winter releases are 17,000
cfs, or higher.
Great Plains and Midwest Climate and Drought Webinar
In a webinar October 24th the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reviewed climate conditions in the
upper Midwest. The October storms that hit portions of the Dakotas, Montana and
Wyoming raised soil moisture levels in those areas 2 to 3 inches above normal.
That brought some areas out of drought conditions. The blizzard dropped over 4
feet of snow and caused the death of over 30,000 head of livestock in areas of
Nebraska, South and North Dakota. Some ranchers lost a few head, others lost up
to 70% of their herd. The heavy, wet snow, driven by 70 mile per hour winds,
killed livestock by hypothermia and/or suffocation. The cattle industry said
the direct economic impact of the loss could be half a billion dollars, the
indirect impact may total $1.7 billion. Despite the wet conditions in portions
of the basin the NWS said areas of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado are dry
and some in extreme drought. The lack of a La Nina or El Nino weather pattern
in the Pacific makes it difficult for forecasters to predict the type of winter
the Missouri River Basin will experience.
Missouri River Ice Fishing Tournament to Offer Help to Ranchers
The Mobridge, SD Area Chamber of Commerce's Tourism Committee unanimously
decided to donate the proceeds from a team spot in their 2014 Mobridge Ice
Fishing Tournament to the West River Ranchers Relief Fund. Team #75 is the last
available spot for the tournament. Team #25 - posted recently on Ebay - sold
for $860. The tournament will be January 10-11 includes over $165,000 in prizes.
To help ranchers affected by the recent storms, contact the SD Stock Growers
Association at 605-342-0429.
2011 Missouri River Flood Repairs Continue
More than two years after the 2011 Missouri River Flood the ACE continues
repairs to the Missouri River projects. Repairs include spillway gates, outlet
works, scour areas, recreational facilities, roads and flood control structures
damaged during the flood. The estimated cost of the remaining repairs is $234
Also the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant north of Omaha has begun testing pressurized
steam pipes as the power plant tries to reopen after more than two years. The
Omaha Public Power District began the tests inside the plant, which has been
closed since April 2011 after suffering flooding, a fire and safety violations.
The closure has forced the utility to buy power from other companies and raise
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC)
Members of the committee worked throughout October preparing for the next
meeting November 5th-7th in Omaha. MRRIC provides recommendations to the ACE
and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the Missouri River Recovery
Program (MRRP). The MRRP restores the habitat needed by three listed species;
the pallid sturgeon, least tern, and piping plover that have declined due to the
ACEs’ operation of the Missouri River. Habitat restoration will also benefit
other fish and wildlife and improve recreational opportunities. I represent the
Ikes on MRRIC and many of its work and task groups.
Kansas Looks to Missouri River for Irrigation Water
Kansas officials, concerned about dropping water supplies and grain production,
have gotten the ACE to re-evaluate a 1982 federal water supply study that
proposed pumping billions of gallons of water from the Missouri River to farms
across the state. The new analysis, to be completed in 2015, will reassess the
Kansas Aqueduct - a project first looked at 31 years ago. The project would
draw water from the Missouri River upstream of Kansas City into a 137 foot wide,
23 foot deep canal then with 16 different pumping stations lift it 1800 feet
uphill to a reservoir 375 miles away.
The new study will cost $300,000 - shared equally by the state and the federal
government. The project has a massive estimated cost of over $7 billion, not
counting the needed secondary canals, as well as an estimated annual operating
cost of $413 million. As much as 4 million acre-feet could be moved each year
by the project. One acre foot is 326,000 gallons. A reservoir to hold the water
would be needed.
The Missouri River states do not have a water compact so along with the huge
cost opposition from neighboring states may also pose problems for the proposed
project. Similar projects including a proposed pipeline from the Missouri River
to Colorado’s Front Range is an example and states in the Mississippi River
Basin would likely oppose such a large-scale water diversion. I’ll keep you
posted on further developments.
Farm Bill Update
Now that Congress has, temporarily at least, gotten past their latest self
inflicted wound - the shutdown and debt ceiling impasse - they may work to
finalize the Farm Bill. The current bill expired September 30th. The Farm Bill
funds agricultural subsidies, crop insurance, conservation programs, rural
energy initiatives and the food stamp program. The Senate passed its version of
the Farm Bill S. 954 with bipartisan support. Republican leaders in the House
split the Farm Bill into farm and nutrition measures and passed them separately
then combined the two into H.R. 2642.
A 41 member conference committee of House and Senate members is now trying to
combine the two versions. Cuts to the food stamp program and differences in
allocation farm subsidies are the major sticking points for the conferees. The
Senate’s version contains a provision that re-links conservation requirements to
protect wetlands and highly erodible soils to crop insurance premium subsidies.
The Senate bill also has a nationwide Sodsaver provision removing financial
incentives for landowners to convert native grassland to cropland. These
provisions are strongly supported by the League and many other conservation
groups. The House version does not contain either measure.
The League joined other groups on a letter of support to the conferees for the
two provisions. The expiration of the Farm Bill closed all the conservation
programs the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers to landowners. These
programs, including the Conservation Reserve, Wetlands Reserve and Grassland
Reserve Program help landowners conserve land for wildlife while also improving
water and air quality. The USDA currently cannot enroll any new participants in
the land conservation programs.
House Passes Water Development Act
On October 23rd the House decisively approved, by a 417-3 vote, a major piece of
water legislation. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) (H.R.
3080). A major challenge awaits House and Senate conferees to reconcile the
bill with a very different Senate version - the Water Resource Development Act
(WRDA) (S.601) passed in May. Both bills are troublesome to many conservation
groups, including the League, because they include provisions accelerating
timelines for environmental reviews of proposed projects. The provisions would
limit review time to only 150 days and restrict the involvement of federal
agencies and the public in the review process. The bills also increase funding
for inland waterways and harbor maintenance projects. The country's aging and
failing navigation system has an $8 billion project backlog. Currently the
federal government splits the cost of navigation projects with the barge
industry making it the highest transportation subsidy in the nation. Barge
operators pay a 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax into the Inland Waterways Trust
Fund. That does not raise enough money to cover their share of the split. The
industry has proposed increasing the fuel tax by 6 to 9 cents a gallon. Neither
version deals with the fuel tax or project funding question.
Important SD Pheasant Habitat Summit Scheduled
SD Governor Dennis Daugaard announced a Pheasant Habitat Summit will be held
Friday, December 6, at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron. The summit
will include panel discussions and public input on ways to maintain and enhance
habitat in the state. The Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit will provide
landowners, hunters, and business owners a way to share thoughts on the
importance of pheasant habitat to the state. Pheasants are big business in
South Dakota. The SD Department of Tourism estimates pheasant hunting generates
$223 million in retail economic impact annually and an additional $111 million
in salaries annually - 4,500 jobs are directly linked to the pheasant hunting
industry. The state’s pheasant population has fallen dramatically from a modern
historic high just a few years ago. This is due poor reproduction, bad weather
and most importantly the loss of nesting and winter habitat in the state. The
Governor’s Pheasant Summit is open to the public but pre-registration is
required. Register online at: http://gfp.sd.gov/pheasantsummit/ or call the
Game, Fish and Parks Department at 605-773-3387. Please register and make plans
Invasive Weed Creeping North
Palmer amaranth, an invasive weed, is moving into the Midwest. The thick
stemmed plant can grow 7 feet high and produce a million seeds a year.
Herbicides aren’t an effective control on it. Ag researchers are concerned the
plant could create significant losses in corn and soybean yields. Palmer
amaranth was found in Iowa this summer. Cotton growers in the southern US spend
over $100 million a year trying to control it. Add this one to the long and
growing list of species the League is concerned about.
SD Ag Land Assessment Advisory Task Force Meets
On October 29th I attended the South Dakota Agricultural Land Assessment
Implementation and Oversight Advisory Task Force meeting at the Capitol in
Pierre. Task Force members adopted draft legislation that will be introduced in
the 2014 SD Legislative Session. One bill they adopted is legislation to tax
land for its actual use rather than its soil type as is the current practice.
This could help save grassland from being converted to cropland as it removes
one financial incentive to plow the prairie.
SD Ikes Directors Meet
On October 11th and 12th I was invited to attend the fall SD IWLA Director’s
Meeting in Watertown. We heard updates from the directors and chapters on
projects and other events. A good discussion was held on public access to
non-meandered water in the state. This issue will be hotly debated in the
upcoming SD legislative session. I updated them on the Missouri River
Initiative. And planning for the 2015 National IWLA Convention began. The
meeting will be held in Pierre in July, 2015.
And we’ll end with these two items…..
Favorite Hunting Coat and Cash Return to Owner
Owen Schipnewski of Clara City, MN is glad to have his favorite hunting coat, as
well as what was in the pocket, back. Schipnewski was goose hunting in 2009
when he lost his favorite hunting coat, one he had worn for 25 years. Besides
being his favorite he also had $1,700 in a wallet in the jacket. Schipnewski
tossed the coat into the back of his truck when he went hunting. Schipnewski
forgot about the coat but when he returned home that he discovered the coat, the
$1,700, his driver’s license, credit cards, and a few shotgun shells were
missing. He quickly retraced his steps but no luck.
This fall, four years later, Schipnewski received a call telling him his coat
and all the money had been found. Trent Jorgenson found the coat four years ago
when returning from hunting. He took it home, gave it a quick look, found only
the shotgun shells and put the coat in his garage. Jorgenson never used the coat
but didn’t throw it out. He boxed it up twice in moves to new homes. Jorgenson
never thought about the coat until this fall when friends invited him hunting.
He didn’t own a camouflage coat and decided to use the one he found. Jorgenson
gave the coat another look before throwing it in the washing machine. This
closer inspection turned up the wallet including the $1,700 in $20 and $100
After getting the call that he never thought he would get, Schipnewski drove to
Jorgenson’s farm to retrieve his lost items. He offered Jorgenson a generous
finder’s fee, but Jorgenson turned it down saying he was more than happy to “do
the right thing”. But Schipnewski insisted on giving Jorgenson more than just a
thank you so he’s going to buy him a gift - a new hunting coat.
Bowhunters “Catch and Release” an Elk
Bowhunters Jeff McConnell and Brant Hoover were hunting elk near McCall, Idaho
when they saw an elk calf stuck in a mud wallow - its mother was standing close
by. The two hunters quickly waded into the thigh-high mud to help worried the
cow might charge them. The hunters eased the calf out until they were able to
pull it out of the mud by her hind legs. The men said once the calf got
completely out of the mud it looked back at them then trotted off into the trees
to rejoin its mother. The hunters ended their catch-and-release elk hunt tired,
covered in mud, but happy to have helped.