From: Sam Hananel, Associated Press
Published February 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Army Corps Keeps Plan for Spring Rise on Missouri River

WASHINGTON — The Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it won't change plans to release extra water into the Missouri River this year, despite concerns the spring rise will put downstream farms and the barge industry at risk.

The agency's final operating plan for the river calls for release of two "spring pulses" of water from upstream reservoirs in March, and again in May, to help revive an endangered fish, the pallid sturgeon.

But the releases will happen only if a lingering drought leaves enough water in the reservoir system. Otherwise, they will be postponed to 2007.

Current forecasts show enough storage capacity for the releases to occur, said Paul Johnston, a spokesman for the corps' northwestern division office in Omaha, Neb.

The two-day pulses are supposed to mimic the historic rise of the river with the melting of mountain snow before dams were built. The idea is to encourage spawning by the pallid sturgeon.

Environmental groups generally support the plan as the best way to protect river wildlife, but Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has threatened legal action. He calls the science sketchy and says the pulses could flood thousands of acres of farmland along the river.

Missouri officials grew concerned in December, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency said farmers who suffer crop damage from intentional flooding by the federal government would not be eligible for federal crop insurance claims.

"I was always taught that the mission of the corps was to manage the United States' navigable waters, not to react to the whims of environmentalists and put citizens in harm's way," said Charlie Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.

The final plan announced Tuesday is virtually identical to one announced Oct. 24. Since then, corps officials considered hundreds of written comments and heard debate at eight meetings in cities along the nation's longest river, which runs 2,714 miles from Montana to Missouri.

The corps developed the plan under orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the pallid sturgeon as required under the Endangered Species Act.

Upstream states are concerned that the release of water will lower already drought-plagued lakes and damage the valuable fishing industry in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"Although they are clearly trying, this plan still gives upstream states like Montana the short end of the stick," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Source: Associated Press

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