Lake Oahe on the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System

Lake Oahe on the Missouri River reservoir system.

The author is commanding general, Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System, which includes six dams, in accordance with the Master Water Control Manual to serve the eight purposes authorized by Congress: flood control, navigation, power production, water supply, water quality, irrigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife.

In operating the reservoir system for these purposes, the Corps must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including the Endangered Species Act.

There has been discussion in the Missouri River basin about potential management actions the Corps may take to protect listed species. Concerns about possible revisions to the Master Manual and associated potential impacts to flood risks have been at the heart of those discussions and of media coverage.

Let me assure the residents of the Missouri River basin that no final decisions have been made regarding these various potential actions — including revision of the Master Manual — to address the needs of the piping plover, the interior least tern and the pallid sturgeon.

Currently, we are performing an analysis of how we can best meet our obligations to these species. As we conduct this analysis, we remain fully committed to operating the reservoir system for its authorized purposes, including flood risk management to reduce the risk of damage to life and property.

In the next few paragraphs, I want to provide you some history about how we arrived at this point and to explain what we are considering.

The Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee was established by Congress to provide the Corps with guidance on our activities to mitigate losses of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and to promote recovery of federally listed species. It is a 70-member committee that comprises stakeholders and representatives of tribal, state and federal governments throughout the Missouri basin.

In 2012, the committee sent a consensus recommendation to the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the agencies follow a structured, science-based process to evaluate management actions that could be taken to better address the needs of endangered species. Development of the Missouri River Recovery Management Plan and associated Environmental Impact Statement was initiated partly to address the committee’s recommendation.

Additionally, the Corps must conduct a National Environmental Policy Act process that requires evaluation of a full range of reasonable alternatives for any proposed major federal action. A key goal of the Management Plan is to then identify and select actions that will result in no jeopardy to the listed species. Common among all alternatives is an adaptive management approach that will lay out the framework for assessing the effectiveness of future program actions, as well as describe how future decisions will be made.

The Corps is early in its process and has made no final decisions regarding potential management actions.

We, in collaboration with committee members, have identified a range of alternatives for further evaluation, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

However, that does not mean we have made any final decisions about the possible actions and will not do so prior to an opportunity for full public input.

Furthermore, while some of the alternatives under analysis may involve changes to operations under the Master Manual, they would have to be consistent with the authorized purposes, including flood risk management, which reduces the risks from floods to people, homes, and businesses.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement is slated for release to the public in December 2016.

We invite you to review and comment on the draft. While we have been working collaboratively with the committee to identify human considerations to use as metrics to evaluate the potential management actions, we understand that you are concerned about how these alternatives could possibly impact you.

So, it will be essential for us to receive your valued feedback. Feedback from the committee has been very valuable in shaping these alternatives. However, we encourage and look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments as well during that period.

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