The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week adopted a 15-year conservation plan for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Established in 1924, the refuge stretches 261 miles along the Mississippi River in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. The project will require the government to acquire 15,000 acres of private land, expand monitoring of threatened or endangered species, and create scores of recreational areas. Since 60 percent of all grain exported from the U.S. is shipped via the Mississippi, the conservation plan has the government walking a regulatory "tight wire" between environmental and commercial interests. Further west, the government tried to maintain its regulatory balance this week on the Missouri River.
The barge season on the Missouri River is being shortened by 44 days – to end in mid-October, as drought continues to tighten its grip on the Missouri River basin. Until then, the Army Corps of Engineers says river flows to support navigation will remain at minimum service levels.
Drought conditions have put a strain on other users of the Missouri river as well. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates hydropower production from dams is expected to decline by an estimated 40% this year. The company that markets power produced by the dams, had to purchase more than $2.7 million dollars worth of electricity in July, to meet its contract obligations to upper Midwest utilities.
The Corps this week released more water from a North Dakota dam to try to help a drought-plagued reservoir on the Missouri River. The release of 24,000 cubic feet of water per second at mid-week followed a release of 21,000 cfs the day before.
The release couldn't be done earlier the Corps said because it had been waiting for young birds, protected under the Endangered Species Act, to mature enough to fly.
When to release water – how much and for what purpose – has been a long fought battle between many interests. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear challenges to a lower court ruling that favored navigation over recreation and other river interests.