Business
6:06 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

Upstream States Lay Claim To Water Bound For Mississippi

Credit Kelly Martin / Via Wikimedia Commons

Lawmakers in states up upstream on the Missouri River are bracing for a fight if any action is taken to reopen dams on the Missouri River.

Northern states say their need for water is just as important as moving barges on the Mississippi River.

So far the President is staying out of the water war between states in the Mississippi River watershed, which includes the Missouri River.

Downstream states such as Missouri and Illinois continue to press Obama to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to break from their hydrology manual, and release water from reservoirs in the Dakotas and Montana.  This would provide some short-term support for shipping on the Mississippi River.

But South Dakota Senator John Thune says his state will fight any move by the Army Corps to release their water.

“They would be hard pressed to agree to what the downstream states are asking them to do,” Thune says. “I mean, we do have the law and the master manual on our side—I think it would be a real far reach for them.”

Thune sites a 1990 analysis by the Government Accountability Office that says downstream navigation interests do not legally warrant releasing water.

But Joe Kellett of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District, says without more rain, there isn’t much the corps can do to increase river levels.

“Clearly we have built an extensive navigation system and an extensive flood-risk management system that can handle the vast majority of events that happen,” Kellett says. “But when you get to these types of extremes it gets to be extraordinarily difficulty.”

Barge traffic on the Mississippi itself may not actually be impeded until later this month because the water level isn’t falling as fast as projected, due to recent rains.

The National Weather Service says that without rain the river at St. Louis could drop to nine feet by Dec. 26.  That’s the level officials say barge traffic will likely be restricted.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter: @aallington