Missouri River named most endangered — again

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04/02/2002

Missouri River named most endangered — again

ST. LOUIS (AP) — For the second year in a row, an environmental group has named the Missouri River the most endangered in the nation, pointing its finger at the Army Corps of Engineers.

The annual report released Tuesday by Washington-based American Rivers had the Missouri at the top of its list, followed by the Big Sunflower River in Mississippi, the Klamath River in Oregon and California, the Kansas River in Kansas and the White River in Arkansas and Missouri.

The Missouri is the nation's longest river, originating in southwestern Montana and flowing into the Mississippi at St. Louis.

American Rivers said the Missouri has continued to deteriorate "thanks to a management scheme that prioritizes a handful of barges over the river's health and its growing recreation and tourist industry."

The group said that over the years, an artificially deep and narrow channel maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers for barges has shortened the river by 127 miles and left it two-thirds narrower than it once was.

Next month the corps is scheduled to make a long-delayed decision on the river.

For years, the corps has been considering changing the way it manages the river and its six dams. But the process has been controversial, pitting farmers against environmentalists and upstream states like Montana and North Dakota against downstream states like Missouri.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended higher flows during the spring, followed by a sharp reduction in water volume to restore backwaters and sandbars. The "spring rise" is intended to mimic the river's natural conditions.

Missouri regulators and lawmakers, aligned with barge and farm interests, have opposed those changes, saying they would not protect wildlife as promised while allowing states upstream to divert water needed in Missouri.

American Rivers president Rebecca Wodder said the decision due in May will be historic.

"If the corps commits to new dam operations this spring, the nation will celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark expedition looking forward to a better future for the Missouri River," she said in remarks prepared for the announcement in Washington of the latest river ratings.

"If the corps makes the wrong choice, the river's continued slide toward collapse will cast a pall over this historic occasion," she said.

Corps spokesman Paul Johnston said the agency is sorting through 55,000 public comments on six proposed alternatives for managing the river. The new policies are to be put into effect next March.

Johnston said that while the corps is often blamed for the Missouri River's problems, it has been following orders from Congress requiring the river to be maintained for barge traffic.

Even if barge traffic was halted altogether, "the river would not significantly change because the channelizing and the control structures would remain in place for flood control," Johnston said.

Don Brown, a spokesman for Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, said the endangered rivers list "has been widely recognized to be more about publicity than about anything based on science."

Johnston said American Rivers is trying to use its report to influence the river management process.

"It's the same drill we went through last year," he said.


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Top endangered rivers  
 
• Missouri
• Big Sunflower
• Klamath
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• White
 

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