SIOUX CITY | A national environmental group has ranked the Missouri River as one of 10 U.S. tributaries facing significant policy decisions in the next year. The choices, the group says, will determine the future of safety around the waterway.
The “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report by the Washington, D.C., group American Rivers calls on regional leaders to restore wetlands and develop a comprehensive plan for the waterway. The report is scheduled to be released Tuesday.
“We can’t just rely on making decisions about individual projects now,” said Eileen Fretz, of American Rivers. “We need to have a long-term plan.”
The Missouri placed fourth on the annual list. The Potomac River, in the Washington, D.C., area, ranked first, because of pollution concerns.
The group advocates for river protection, improving water quality and eliminating outdated flood control devices that it believes harm wildlife and habitats.
The report says flooding on the Missouri River will continue to threaten lives, property and habitat -- as it did in 2011 -- until more natural flood-control efforts are built and a long-term management strategy is crafted. It calls on Congress to restore funding for a federal study that would examine the priorities of the Army Corps of Engineers. Money for the study was eliminated.
In 2011, the reservoirs on the Missouri River could not contain runoff from heavy rains and melting snow upstream. The corps, which was criticized for not releasing enough water before the flood, discharged a record 160,000 cubic feet per second from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., to relieve pressure behind the dam.
The river rose to 35.25 feet in Sioux City, well above the flood stage of 30 feet, during last year's flood. It caused millions of dollars in damage to the Sioux City-area riverfront and ravaged farm fields and the low-lying Riv-R-Land Estates in rural Union County, S.D. Millions were spent protecting Dakota Dunes from being overtaken by the river.
To lessen the impact of future floods, stakeholders must find middle ground for the benefit of everyone, said Woodbury County Emergency and Disaster Services Director Gary Brown.
“There are so many competing interests that we need to come together and find a balance for all of those interests,” he said.
Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Monique Farmer said last year’s flood created more unity among the groups along the river than in years past. That atmosphere could help communities develop a holistic, system-wide approach to long-term river management, Farmer said.
“I think we’re at the point where we can start to have some of these discussions and start to talk about some of these issues,” Farmer said.
The first “endangered” list was released in 1986. The Missouri River has been on it nine times.
The report is compiled using nominations from river groups and concerned citizens. The final list is based on the size and scope of the policy issues the river faces in the next year and the significance of the waterway to the area.