Water Fights

In the Midwest I think people pray for rain more than they pray for world peace.  Water is an integral part of our lives.  It’s management and conservation is very important, which is why there are laws and regulations on waterways, but as we are faced with droughts and floods, people are looking at altering those regulations.  

In September, barge operators, farmers and ranchers, flood-management specialists, environmentalists, and federal, state, and local governments met to begin America’s Great Watershed Initiative.  The goal of this group is to reach an agreement about the most scientifically sound ways to manage the network of waterways involving the Mississippi River.

The article by Bloomberg, “To Ease Drought on the Mississippi, Look Upstream,” looks at the aspects of flood control and state cooperation for the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  It says a quick way to raise the level of the Mississippi River is to release more water from the dams on the Missouri.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a good idea or not, “because federal law prohibits manipulating the Missouri in any way that’s expressly meant to help the Mississippi.”  According to the article, the Mississippi River covers a million square miles across 31 states and two Canadian provinces.  It’s used for navigation, electricity, recreation, consumption, agriculture, and hydraulic fracturing, so it’s regulation is incredibly important. 

Arguments for manipulating the Missouri River include barges who need the channel of the Mississippi River to be at least 9 feet deep to operate, farmers who need water to grow their crops and environmentalists who push to maintain the habitats of fish, birds, and other wildlife.  This could be possible if the Mississippi basin is treated as a whole.  “The Flood Control Act of 1944, that governs the Missouri, requires that, in operating the series of dams on the upper Missouri, the Army Corps of Engineers should consider eight interests — in addition to flood control, these are water supply and quality, irrigation, hydropower, navigation, fish and wildlife protection, and recreation.  They specifically do not include anything to do with the Mississippi.”  

The Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Platte Rivers, along with the Red River of the South are all substantial feeder rivers for the Mississippi.  The manipulation of one river to benefit the Mississippi, may help the Mississippi River, but could potentially harm other regions depending on the feeder river’s water.  “In 2009, lawmakers authorized $25 million study to assess whether any changes should be made to the management of the Missouri, but soon after the study was started Congress declined to allocate most of the money for it.”  With climate changes and the risk of extreme droughts and floods, you can bet the management of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers will be looked at further and most likely become a battle of the states.

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One thought on “Water Fights

  1. Fascinating issue and a great potential topic for an editorial! I read an argument a few years ago that the lower half of the Mississippi ought to really be called the lower half of the Missouri River. The Missouri’s headwaters are further away and so the Missouri ought to be considered the dominant river of the pair.

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