Farmers, water stakeholders concerned about Missouri River propo - KCTV5

Farmers, water stakeholders concerned about Missouri River proposal

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The Army Corps of Engineers is considering several plans for managing the Missouri River, which farmers and other stakeholders along the river could lead to increased flood risk. (KCTV5) The Army Corps of Engineers is considering several plans for managing the Missouri River, which farmers and other stakeholders along the river could lead to increased flood risk. (KCTV5)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering several plans for managing the Missouri River, which farmers and other stakeholders along the river could lead to increased flood risk.

The Corps is updating its Environmental Impact Statement for the Missouri River Recovery Project, designed to balance environmental and economic issues along the river. 

The plan is designed to restore sandbars, which provide vital habitat to several threatened and endangered animals.

They include two bird species -- the Piping Plover and Least Tern -- which thrive on sandbars along river banks. So does the Pallid Sturgeon, a strange-looking fish that many scientists believe dates back to the cretaceous period.

Jeff Tripe, an environmental specialist for the Corps, has been working on the project for several years.

"I'd like my kids to see those species into the future," Tripe said. "That's why I feel it's important."

The Missouri River is the nation's longest river and one of the greatest economic and environmental resources in the Midwest. It supplies Kansas City, St. Louis and several other major cities with drinking water. 

It also supplies Tom Waters, a farmer in Orrick, MO, with natural irrigation for his row crops. But Waters says the river has a split personality. It can be flowing serenely one day, but breach its banks following a heavy rain.

"It can turn around and be a wild animal," Waters said, recalling the Missouri's behavior in May 2016.

On his farm, the river rose 13 feet in three days at one point in the month.

Waters and other farmers worry constantly about flooding, which is why they pay close attention to any regulatory changes in the river.

"The draft environmental statement is very concerning to us," Waters said of the Corps' plan.

Specifically, Waters is concerned that the Corps could decide to increase the flow of the river.

The Corps' current Environmental Impact Statement contains six alternatives, five of which call for releasing water from Gavin's Point Dam on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota.

According to the Corps, releasing more water would run more sediment through the river, which would holistically build sandbars with minimal human interference.

Waters worries that running more water in the river would put his farm in a precarious position during spring months. 

A two-inch rain, he said, could potentially create flood conditions on his farm, inhibiting his ability to plant crops.

"Delayed Planting means reduced yields," the farmer explained. "That all affects the bottom line."

One alternative, the one that does not call for increasing river flow, would build sandbars mechanically. 

"We can go in there with hydraulic dredges, pull the sand up, create islands that way without changing flows in the river," Tripe explained.

Tripe added that this alternative is currently the Corps' preferred method. 

Waters called the strategy the "least harmful" for his farm, noting that the alternative contains a provision that could allow the federal agency to increase river flow at least nine years down the road.

"We can't take that risk as farmers and businesses who rely on flood control," Waters said.

Tripe noted that the Corps would have to meet a specific set of requirements to release water under its preferred alternative if it needed to increase flows down the road.

He also encouraged the public to take part in the discussion about the river's future.

"We have a draft environmental impact statement that's been out there for public review," he said.

That draft is available for public comment until April 24. You can submit comments here.

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