It's commonplace for spending bills to change once they hit the floor for debate. Amendments for pet projects get attached to bills like barnacles on the side of a ship. But any lawmaker attempts to change the USDA spending bill will be hard to accomplish. That's because the Congressional Budget Office will insist that offsetting cuts to other programs be made to win the OK for new spending proposals.
That's a form of compromise the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may wish had been in place some years ago. Competing interests that use America's waterways have been pressuring the Corps on its river management policies. This week, one such long-simmering dispute came to a head in federal court.
It's been a 14-year battle between environmentalists and navigation interests along the 23-hundred mile Missouri River, and this week a U.S. District judge ruled in favor of river management that allows navigation.
Environmental groups, along with the recreation industry in the Dakotas and Montana, sought high water flows in spring and low flows in summer to provide a more natural habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon and two birds protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Mandatory low water flows would be too shallow for barge traffic.
In a 51-page ruling, the judge said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could continue to manage the river without the changes sought by environmentalists, who haven't yet decided whether to appeal.
But the outcome of the lawsuit came too late for barge companies. Earlier this year, due to the uncertainty of river flows, two major barge companies announced they would not operate on the Missouri this year -- leaving terminal elevators without river service.
Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Army Corps that summer water levels could be kept high enough for barge shipping ... IF the Corps builds 12-hundred acres of new habitat for the protected species.
On Friday of this week, the Corps announced they met that goal. This spring, the Corps began dredging parts of the river to create new backwater... with the dredged up material being carried via underwater "tubes" and dumped in one spot to create a sandbar. The new habitats up and down the river are meant to encourage spawning and nesting for fish and birds.
John Remus, US Army Corps Of Engineers: "This isn't a one time deal. We will continue to do these types of projects into the future. We have a mandate from our, the Fish and Wildlife Service to build between 15-and-20,000 acres of shallow water habitat from Ponca down to St. Louis in the next 20 years."