SPRINGFIELD, S.D. -- A section in a recent federal water bill has given optimism to those seeking a solution to the increasing sediment deposits in Lewis and Clark Lake that a plan for removing sediment can be developed sooner rather than later.
The 2016 Water Resources Development Act includes a section authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a sediment management plan for reservoirs in the upper Missouri River basin. Though the act provides no financial appropriations, it sends the message that lawmakers are aware of the problem.
"I think once you have vehicles in legislation, it's on people's radars to do something," said Sandy Stockholm, executive director of the Springfield-based Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition, formed in 2001 to educate the public and seek solutions to Missouri River reservoir sedimentation.
An estimated 5.1 million tons of sediment enter Lewis and Clark Lake annually, and the Corps of Engineers estimates that the reservoir behind Gavins Point Dam has lost approximately 30 percent of its water storage capacity since it began filling in 1955. At the current rate, the lake would be filled with sand in about 150 years or sooner.
The problem isn't sneaking up on anyone who has seen the growing sand delta on the lake's west end. The delta, continually reaching to the east, has contributed to rising ground water levels and increased flooding threats near Springfield and in Niobrara, Nebraska, and has affected water supplies and the ability of recreational boaters to navigate the area.
The corps has been studying the issue for years, using computer models to test various scenarios that adjust upstream dam releases to flush sediment through Gavins Point Dam. The federal legislation gives a push to explore other aspects required in any sediment management plan, said Paul Boyd, a Corps of Engineers hydraulic engineer.
"It allows us to leverage a lot of work that's already been done," Boyd said. "We're all for as many tools as we can get to move this discussion forward. We know a little fix here, a tiny fix there is not enough."
Boyd said sediment studies thus far have focused mainly on engineering solutions. The corps and MSAC hope to partner on a cost-benefit study to analyze how increasing sedimentation at the lake and its removal would impact, both negatively and positively, not just the area bordering the lake, but locations up and down the river.
Such a study would merge economic data with engineering findings, enabling the corps to better develop a management plan and seek government appropriations to enact it.
"The cost-benefit ratio is definitely something we need to take a look at," Stockholm said. "Really what we hope it does is pull all these studies together and come up with a plan of action."
An economic study could take up to 18 months to complete, and Boyd said the earliest the corps could come forward with a plan would be 2021. Any proposal would be followed by public meetings, environmental studies and more review. It would probably be at least five years before any project could start, he said.
"We're not two years away from actively removing sediment, but at least we're on a path we weren't on 10 years ago," Boyd said.
The sooner the better, said Rollin Hotchkiss, a Brigham Young University civil and environmental engineering professor who has studied reservoir sedimentation worldwide.
Every day, more silt is dumped into Lewis and Clark Lake by the Missouri River and its tributaries. A likely participant in the upcoming economic study, Hotchkiss said the impact of moving that sediment through the lake so it can flow downstream must be determined.
"Ideally, we would put that sediment in motion and move it past the dam. It's the only sustainable solution," said Hotchkiss, who was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for nine years prior to going to BYU in 2005.
Hotchkiss said the challenge is to get sediment through the discharge gates at Gavins Point Dam. The gates are not at the bottom of the dam, but, like the windows of a house, are toward the middle. Some of those gates need to be lowered, an engineering feat Hotchkiss said he observed in Japan this summer at two dams and reservoirs facing the same circumstances as Lewis and Clark Lake.
If that sediment were to begin moving through the Gavins Point gates and flowing downstream, folks living down river naturally have concerns about the Missouri carrying more sediment and how that might affect them.
Study stakeholders must assess how sediment removal can both avert and cause damages and try to attach a dollar figure to each. If sediment moves past the dam and downstream, for example, how much could the corps save on building sandbars to provide habitat for endangered bird species? Or, how might increased sediment in the river affect downstream cities such as Sioux City?
Typical studies aim to look 50 years into the future. This study, Hotchkiss said, might need to look 200-300 years ahead or have no time limit, though that makes it harder to predict outcomes and costs.
"As part of this study, we want to look at things a little bit differently," Hotchkiss said.
Stockholm said that, in addition to seeking grants, MSAC has met with municipal and county governing bodies and water districts bordering the lake to seek financial commitments to help fund the study. Her group hopes for major movement by the end of the year, she said. It's unknown how much the study will cost, though the corps is likely to share in the expense, especially if it partners with MSAC.
Once that study is completed, Boyd said, he's confident that a credible plan can be developed. Though undertaking yet another study may seem to some like another delay in addressing the sediment problem, it's a step forward, he said.
"It is progress. We're now asking questions about management that we weren't asking a decade ago," Boyd said.
Stockholm, too, sees the study as a necessary step in a process that's had its starts and stops.
"It's a long journey ahead, but I think we're identifying things that need to happen in order for something to big to happen," she said.
WASHINGTON — Breaking with President Donald Trump, senators leaving a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday said they are even more convinced that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in "about 30 minutes."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is "zero chance" the crown prince wasn't involved in Khashoggi's death.
"There's not a smoking gun. There's a smoking saw," Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Graham said "you have to be willfully blind" not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince's command.
Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally. The Senate overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
It's unclear whether or how that resolution will move forward. The vote last week allowed the Senate to debate the measure, which could happen as soon as next week, but senators are still in negotiations on whether to amend it and what it should say.
Haspel met with a small group of senators, including leadership and the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she didn't attend an all-Senate briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week.
Pompeo and Mattis tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with the resolution, saying U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration's broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.
The two men also echoed Trump's reluctance to blame the crown prince. Pompeo said there was "no direct reporting" connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was "no smoking gun" making the connection.
After that briefing, Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel. "I'm not going to blow past this," he said. That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Khashoggi's killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.
Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin said the briefing with Haspel "clearly went in to an evaluation of the intelligence" and was much more informative than the session with Mattis and Pompeo.
"I went in believing the crown prince was directly responsible or at least complicit in this and my feelings were strengthened by the information we were given," Durbin said.
Durbin joined Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in calling for a full-Senate briefing from Haspel.
"Every senator should hear what I heard this afternoon," Durbin said.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a critic of Saudi Arabia, said that excluding some lawmakers is "the very definition of the deep state" and that he suspected that the Trump administration is attempting to get some lawmakers to switch their votes on the resolution by giving them information.
Khashoggi was killed two months ago. The journalist, who had lived for a time in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.
"It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event," Trump said in a lengthy statement Nov. 20. "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"
The president has touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and recently thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.
"They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran," Trump said in the statement. "The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region."
In a column for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Graham wrote that the killing and other moves by the Saudi regime showed "astounding arrogance entitlement" and disregard for international norms.
"We are a coequal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country's long-term interests, values and reputation," wrote Graham, of the Senate. "After all, someone's got to do it."
Graham said after the briefing that he would push for a nonbinding resolution that the crown prince was "complicit" in Khashoggi's murder. Graham and Paul have also said they think Congress should block a pending arms deal with the kingdom.