Presently, there are eight authorized Missouri River project purposes: fish and wildlife, flood control, irrigation, navigation, hydropower, recreation, water quality, and water supply.
As stated in the Federal Register/ Vol 77, No. 139/July 19, 2012, “Although water supply is one of the several purposes of the Missouri River main stem projects, no specific allocation of storage has been made for municipal and industrial purposes.”
That may be changing and you will have the opportunity to offer your own opinion when the Corps convenes public listening sessions in cities along the river in August. The National Environmental Policy Act requires the Corps to conduct public sessions as part of an Environmental Impact Statement before it can make recommendations to Congress for changes.
“The purpose of the study is to determine if changes to the current allocation of storage for M&I water supply may be warrented, and what the effects of making those changes would be on other authorized project purposes.”
This is interesting: “If found to be feasible, storage could be allocated for purposes specific to M&I water supply storage, allowing for non-federal entities to acquire rights to storage “via water supply contracts with the Corps of Engineers.”
The study area will encompass the six mainstem reservoirs and the river proper from the headwaters to Saint Louis. As stated in the Register, “The demand for M&I water has increased in recent years and the Corps has received numerous requests for intakes and permission to withdraw water as a result of this demand.”
In case you were sleeping, the oil and gas business in North Dakota, based primarily on fracking, has greatly increased the need for water and the Missouri is by far, the most reliable source of the great amounts required.
Even more interesting is the list of issues to be discussed at the scoping sessions, one of which is “(4) determine the price to be charged the purchasers of reallocated storage.”
So, is this the beginning of Water Wars for the Missouri? Every drop of water is already bought and paid for on other western rivers like the Colorado where it is not legal for you to collect the rainfall off your roof in Denver in a rain barrel, for example. If North Dakota and other upriver states have a greater need for the river’s waters, pity poor Saint Louis which may have to pay dearly to ensure that the river continues to run past it. That is a worst case scenario that would only become a nightmare if we go through a long-term drought.
I can see where it may be a good idea to figure out how much water we need and then agree to pay for its storage. Otherwise, without allocation and contracts, the oil and gas industry will remain free to remove as much water as it wants without paying a storage fee. That will not matter in most years, but what if we have extended drought with little snowfall to be stored in the mountains to supply the reservoirs?
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The Corps says that they have enough water stored to last for about 11 years of Dust Bowl-like drought, but those are numbers that were determined before fracking became a reality five years ago and does the volume depend on regular snowfall?
The mainstem reservoirs only control the upper one-third of the river watershed, so if it rains on the Great Plains, we should get our water without having to pay for storage. What happens if it does not rain enough?
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.