Sunday, January 13, 2013

Corps Facing Tough Options On Mississippi

Weekend Edition Sunday:
There's good news and bad news here. The good news is, there's been some rain in the Midwest and historical trends say river levels typically bottom out in January before rising in February.
The bad news, however, is if that doesn't happen this year, the Corps is running out of options.
The Corps is already releasing water from Carlyle Lake in southern Illinois, but that's the last reservoir left for the Corps to tap.
The biggest target is the Missouri River. The longest river in the country, it runs through or touches seven states and is the Mississippi's biggest tributary, but it is currently off limits.
"The Corps is sort of caught in the cross hairs here of a lot of competing interests in the Missouri," says John Thorson, a water law attorney who has long studied the Missouri River.
The Corps cannot legally release water from the Missouri to benefit navigation on the Mississippi.
The recent historical drought in the U.S. has scorched both the Mississippi and Missouri River basins. About 20 percent of the Missouri River's storage capacity for a 12-year flood has already been used up.
"It's going to be a dry year, and there might even be reductions in some of the authorized purposes on the Missouri, such as navigation," Thorson says. "So even within the basin itself, there's going to be impacts."
John Thorson says President Obama might be able to use emergency powers to release Missouri River water, or Congress could pass some new legislation, but those moves would be extremely unpopular with Missouri River states.
At Thebes, Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General Thomas Bostick says the president is aware of the Mississippi River situation and all options are on the table — including the Missouri River water. But he says the Corps is already releasing more Missouri River water from its reservoirs than it normally would, just to meet water demands on that river.  "There's a lot of second [and] third order effects; there's a lot of interests, whether it's hydropower, ecosystems, the environment, water supply, navigation," Bostick says. "All of those purposes are important for us to look at and the impact of one over the other."
More on the work at Thebes here.  They didn't mention one of the growing users of Missouri River water: fracking.  We're sending a good deal of water toward the Mississippi right now, but it will be coming in downstream of Thebes, and won't help the Missouri at all.

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