(Note: an earlier version of this story had the incorrect species that was removed from the Endangered Species List earlier this year. It is corrected in the version below.)
Since the end of a decade-long drought in 2010, commerce on the Missouri River has been expanding and is set to expand further, bringing welcome shipping options to the region’s farmers and ag producers. The ports of Kansas City and Omaha are reviving and developing. The newly built $11 million grain barge facility at Mile 680.5 near Blencoe, Iowa, is set to have a formal opening in June. Efforts are underway to develop a new port near Jefferson City, Mo.
On April 20, a bipartisan group of 18 members of Congress from both houses, representing states and regions adjoining the Missouri River, wrote a letter to top Corps of Engineers officials. The occasion of the letter is that the Corps is currently developing guidelines for implementing provisions of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) relating to the river.
The letter urges the Corps to take advantage of authorities and measures granted to it in the latest WRDA to prioritize restoration of navigational and flood control structures damaged in the historic floods of 2019. But that’s not the letter’s only point. Many of these same members previously signed onto a letter to Corps leaders last October that warned of “dire” ongoing navigational deficits on the Lower Missouri River. In that letter, they attributed navigational problems and issues not merely to the aftereffects of the historic 2019 flooding, but specifically (and pointedly) to structures designed to preserve habitat of three endangered species, the pallid sturgeon, interior least tern and piping plover. Since those measures were put in place, the interior least tern has been removed from the endangered list. The Corps is currently appealing a multi-million-dollar federal court decision holding it liable for flood damage to riverside properties caused by those structures.
“On behalf of the navigators, industries, farmers, and small businesses that rely upon the Missouri River to conduct their businesses, we would appreciate your consideration and look forward to working with you in an effort to ensure implementation guidance is consistent with congressional intent,” the letter concludes. That intent is clear: restore navigational integrity and flood control as soon as possible.
We may add that while the future of the species-preserving structures is in question as the court appeal goes forward, the structures should not be allowed to interfere with those two purposes.