Kansas City, Mo. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to use water from drought-stricken Kansas reservoirs to support barge traffic on the Missouri River.
The corps announced Thursday it would begin releasing water from Kansas reservoirs into the Missouri River in mid-September to support barge traffic from Kansas City to the Mississippi River. Drought and a federal judge's order requiring lower river flows from mid-August until Labor Day have caused the Missouri River to dip.
Paul Johnston, a spokesman for the corps, said the agency planned to use water from the Tuttle Creek, Perry and Milford lakes to conserve water in the Missouri River's three largest reservoirs, which are 20 feet to 25 feet below normal. The corps will not use water from Perry reservoir until October.
It will be the ninth time in 23 years the corps has released water from the Kansas reservoirs into the Missouri River. But Johnston said enough rain could keep the corps from using the Kansas reservoirs.
"If we start getting some rain, then we won't have to do that," he said.
Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said the governor was committed to protecting the state's water and hoped the corps could find a different solution.
"We have an emergency drought situation declared over almost the whole state, so this is not good news for Kansas," Corcoran said.
Early Monday, the corps will increase the current release of 25,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border to 30,0000 cfs, Johnston said. That increase will take 10 days to reach the Mississippi River and the corps will then determine how much water it will take from the Kansas reservoirs, Johnston said.
The corps is waiting until then because releases from the Kansas reservoirs are limited to 4,000 cfs, which by itself is not enough to help barge traffic on the Missouri River from Kansas City to the Mississippi River, Johnston said.
"We could do it right now, but it's not enough to raise the level of the Missouri to its minimum (navigation) flows right now, so there would be nothing achieved," Johnston said.
Chad Smith of the national nonprofit conservation group American Rivers said Thursday's announcement demonstrated how the corps had mismanaged the river.
"Instead of conserving water and saving it for these drier years, they've been wasting it on a handful of barges," Smith said. "It's really a failure on the part of the corps in thinking about long-term management of the river."
Conservation groups want the river to ebb and flow more naturally to encourage spawning and nesting to protect the least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon -- fish and shorebirds on the government's list of threatened and endangered species.