Archive for Saturday, January 15, 2005

S.D. governor seeking Missouri River summit

Gov. Rounds wants states to discuss water management options

January 15, 2005

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— Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota on Friday called for a summit meeting with other governors from Missouri River states to discuss options for managing the drought-stricken river.

Rounds said he sent invitations to other governors to see whether they are interested in attending a meeting Feb. 7 in Sioux Falls.

The annual operating plan recently announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be changed to reduce flows from the upstream dams this year so there is more water for a variety of uses up and down the river next year, he said.

"If we start looking at some alternatives, I think we can all be better off, not just the upstream states but the downstream states as well," Rounds said.

The corps' current plan would release too much water from the dams in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana this year, the governor said. If the drought continues, the proposed releases this year would increase the harm next year on upstream fishing, irrigation, rural and city drinking water systems, and power plants in downstream states, he said.

The problem in 2006 could be particularly bad for downstream power plants that use Missouri River water for cooling, Rounds said. He thinks it would be better to reduce releases from the dams so more water could be sent downstream next year for power plants and other purposes.

Barge traffic downstream would automatically be stopped if storage in the six upstream reservoirs drops to 31 million acre feet of water, Rounds said. The dams now hold 35.1 million acre feet. An acre foot is equal to the amount of water that would cover one acre a foot deep.

In recent years, upstream states have fought to keep water levels steady or rising in the reservoirs during April and May to protect eggs laid in shallow water by spawning fish. Downstream states want more water released to support barge traffic, but upstream states argue that few barges use the river anymore.

South Dakota has proposed that the corps delay the start of this year's barge season from April to May, then release less water throughout summer. That would preserve enough water to allow a barge season next year and provide adequate water for cooling power plants, Rounds said.

In addition, lower releases this year would keep more water in the upstream dams to support fishing and boating, the governor said. He noted that Lake Oahe is now 50 feet below full, and some drinking water systems are having trouble getting their intake pipes to the water.

"For years, we've had dissension between the downstream states and the upstream states," Rounds said. "Rather than having that continue on, I thought maybe it was time to bring the governors together again."

Rounds hosted a meeting of governors in September 2003 to begin discussions on managing the Missouri River. He said he believes the corps would consider operating changes if all states that border the river reach an agreement.

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