Two River Groups — One Upstream, One Downstream — Pool Their Perspectives

Missouri River sediment can be seen earlier this month from this vantage point along Nebraska Highway 12 west of Niobrara, Neb. The worsening sediment has created a number of problems.

When it comes to the Missouri River, Sandy Stockholm and David Shorr are joining forces.

They live hundreds of miles apart along the river, allowing them to see the “Mighty Mo” in much different ways.

Stockholm, who lives in Springfield, serves as executive director of the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition (MSAC). Shorr, an attorney in Jefferson City, Missouri, serves as a board member with the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River (CPMR) based in Hermann, Missouri.

Stockholm sees the impact of rapidly encroaching sediment in Lewis and Clark Lake near Yankton. The sediment — along with high releases from Missouri River dams — impacts flood control, hydropower, water supplies and recreation.

“The Missouri River connects thousands of people across several states and it’s important to remember that link when proposing actions like sediment management,” Stockholm said.

Even though the landscape is much different upstream versus downstream, we are still living next to one river.”

Shorr sees the devastation from downstream flooding and the impact on farmland, navigation and other commercial interests.

“We got hammered really hard by last year’s flooding, where we had the bomb cyclone in Nebraska,” he said, noting the impact on the rest of the lower basin.

TEAM EFFORT

For years, debate over the Missouri River management and uses has created a major divide between upstream and downstream states. The battle has spilled over into the courts, federal agencies and Congress.

Stockholm and Shorr want to change that dynamic. Their respective organizations are forming a common front in combating very different conditions along the Missouri River.

Shorr doesn’t see river management as being about winners and losers.

“This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” he told the Press & Dakotan. “It’s so important for people to sit down and have a conversation about it.”

Last year, MSAC and CPMR joined each other’s organization. The two groups aim to boost understanding of each entity’s concerns and to find common ground in supporting ways to better manage sediment trapped behind Gavins Point Dam near Yankton.

“It’s estimated, by the year 2045, Lewis and Clark Lake behind Gavins Point Dam by Yankton would be 50 percent full of sediment,” Stockholm said. “The larger reservoirs will take longer to fill, with Lewis and Clark being the smaller reservoir.”

Meanwhile, the lower basin wants the sediment now trapped behind the Missouri River dams, particularly Gavins Point, Shorr said. However, no financially feasible model has been found for dredging and transporting it such long distances, he added.

This week, MSAC hosted a webinar which, besides Stockholm, featured Shorr and Executive Director Dan Engemann from the CPMR.

“We’re focusing on our relationship with the upper basin through MSAC,” Shorr said.

Engemann and Shorr also serve on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC). The 70-member, congressionally-authorized committee has been charged with providing recommendations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the Missouri River Recovery Program.

Engemann represents agricultural interests before the MRCC, while Shorr represents waterway interests.

Working with both MSAC and MRRIC has been good at building relationships, Shorr told the Press & Dakotan.

“In my opinion, it’s a great way of understanding the needs of both the upper and lower parts of the basin,” he said. “It’s more a matter of mutual support and about working on river issues, but things have to change.”

INTRODUCING LEGISLATION

During this week’s webinar, Engemann provide information about lower river interests including agriculture, navigation and utility sectors. He also outlined federal legislation supported by U.S. senators — including Republicans Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — from eight downstream states.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri introduced the legislation. The proposal is designed to improve flood control infrastructure and overhaul management of Missouri River System water projects.

The bill would establish a new program requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to implement a system-wide approach to water development projects. The move seeks to reduce flood risk and improve flood protection along the lower Missouri River.

Specifically, the Lower Missouri River Flood Prevention Program Act would:

• Require the Secretary of the Army to administer a program to study, design and construct water resources development projects, and modify completed water projects, to provide flood protection to affected communities;

• Direct program authority to encompass 735 miles of the Missouri River (from Sioux City, Iowa, to the mouth of the river);

• Require the Secretary of the Army to develop a system plan for reducing flood risk and improving flood resiliency;

• Provide authority, after development of a project feasibility report, for the Secretary of the Army to construct projects where the federal share does not exceed $75 million.

• Require congressional authorization for projects where the federal share exceeds $75 million. The federal cost-share for feasibility reports and construction would be 80%; and

• Require consultation with applicable federal and state agencies, tribes and stakeholders.

FINDING COMMON GROUND

In a Press & Dakotan interview, Shorr said he has visited South Dakota and realizes its needs. The proposed federal legislation isn’t designed to hurt upstream states, just seek relief for downstream damages suffered under the current management.

In that respect, removing and preventing further sedimentation in areas such as Lewis and Clark Lake would open up more reservoir water storage, Shorr said. The Corps would have more capacity and feel less pressure in moving water through high releases, he added.

A major problem occurs during dramatic weather events, particularly flooding, that affect one part of the basin but not the other, Shorr said.

“Dan (Engenmann) used the term ‘blue sky flood,’ which explains that other areas were hard hit by floods but, at the same time, we were experiencing drought,” he said.

“And no two floods are the same, either. You look at the floods in 1993, 2011 and 2019, where one part of the basin got really hammered while, for others, it wasn’t as bad or it was totally different. It’s important that people understand the river.”

Shorr pointed to the complicated nature of regulating the Missouri River, which flows 2,341 miles and is the longest river in North America.

“It’s a long river and it has all these (tributary) connections. (Native Americans) knew there was a good time to cross it and a bad time to cross,” he said. “We’ve got to remember, wherever we live, how lucky we are to have the Missouri River. Most of the time, she performs well. But when she doesn’t, it’s something else.”

HELPING EACH OTHER

Stockholm said one goal for this week’s webinar was to better understand life next to the river downstream of Gavins Point.

“Flood control and drought are concerns for everyone up and down the river,” she said. “Last year’s flooding produced devastation downstream and rightly deserves congressional attention.”

In that respect, sediment management benefits both upstream and downstream states, Stockholm said.

“MSAC wants to remind decision-makers that the capacity to store water in the reservoirs continues to diminish as sediment accumulates. In our area, that was pointed out almost immediately after Gavins Point was built,” she said.

“Storage capacity for water in the reservoirs is important to river management no matter where you live. Finding the answers to how to maintain that storage capacity can only be found by considering impacts locally and where the water eventually flows.”

MSAC looks forward to maintaining a conversation with CPMR and lower river interests, Stockholm said. “There’s much more to learn and potential places to cooperate, and a better understanding of our different priorities also is needed,” she said.

The focus needs to remain on finding solutions, Stockholm said.

“As was pointed out during the webinar, the lower river states aren’t looking for a study to illustrate flooding is occurring,” she said. “Stakeholders around Lewis and Clark Lake aren’t looking for a study to show sedimentation occurs behind Gavins Point.

“People are looking for action to address these well-known problems. We need to continue to see how we can work together to make the most of what has happened.”

Shorr spoke of the need to focus on common interests and finding solutions that can best serve the entire basin, where possible.

“Most of the time, the system works pretty well. It only gets to be problematic during major events,” he said. “There’s no way for it to be all things to all people, and there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“But this is an amazing system, and we need to continue improving on it for generations to come.”

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To view the webinar, a recording will be available at MSAC’s YouTube channel.

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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