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Archive for Friday, October 22, 2004

Corps says it’s addressing Missouri River drought

October 22, 2004

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— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is taking steps to offset the effects of drought along the Missouri River.

But Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the corps was taking a "reactive rather than proactive approach to the problem."

The corps manages dams and reservoirs along the 2,341-mile river.

Col. Jeff Bedey, the corps' district commander in Omaha, Neb., said years of dry weather in the upper Missouri River basin were threatening water intakes, limiting lake access, unearthing American Indian artifacts and human remains and exposing additional shoreline to weeds.

Bedey said the corps was working with government and tribal officials to monitor public water intakes, kill weeds, extend boat ramps and protect cultural resources.

"The corps understands the effects of this drought and is making every effort to minimize the impact of low water levels," Bedey said in a statement.

Corps officials said it was not immediately known how much the additional drought measures would cost.

Dorgan called the corps' efforts "feel-good measures." He said the agency continued to shortchange the upstream states by sending water downstream for a barge industry.

"For five years the corps has been draining our reservoirs during the drought to keep a nonexistent barge industry afloat downriver," Dorgan said. "If they had managed the Missouri River right in the first place, we'd have had more water and these issues wouldn't have arisen."

The water storage level of the six upstream reservoirs in the Missouri River system was at 35.4 million acre feet on Thursday, an all-time low, said Paul Johnston, a corps spokesman based in Omaha.

"It's getting lower every day," he said.

The corps forecasts runoff for the basin at 16.5 million acre feet this year, more than 30 percent below average, Johnston said. An acre-foot is the amount of water covering an acre, one foot deep.

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