Iowa Public Television


Water Issues Trouble Rural America

posted on January 11, 2002

Don't look now but El Nino is back in town.

The federal Climate Prediction Center says the waters in the topical Pacific Ocean are warming, providing a climate change that could affect the weather worldwide. The agency said the warming phenomenon, commonly referred to as El Nino, could occur by early spring. The last El Nino, in 1997-98, was extremely severe, and caused flooding in California and along the Gulf Coast.

From Florida to the Pacific Northwest, water issues of every stripe continue to plague Rural America. And in the Heartland, the debate over the future of the Missouri River remains, essentially, a "corps" issue.


Water Issues Trouble Rural America

The Army Corps of Engineers, faced with the need to comply with the Endangered Species Act by 2003, commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to study the "Mighty Mo." The report, released this week, recommends the restoration of parts of the river to its original meandering path.

The plan is causing some controversy. Grain processors are concerned the Mississippi would become the major grain transportation route causing the price of shipping to rise as much as 40%. Farmers are worried the river would return to its destructive flood- prone ways.

Business interests see the changes as an opportunity to monetize the river. The recreation industry is projecting an increase in the river's value from $7 million for navigation to $87 million for outdoor activities.

The Corps, which appears to be leaning towards a "do nothing" option, is expected to formalize its policy in the fall.

Farther west, the American Farm Bureau is weighing in on water rights. Before Republican Senators stopped last year's attempt to rewrite the 1996 Farm Law, Nevada Senator Democrat Harry Reid introduced an amendment calling for the purchase of over one million acres of western water rights. The idea was to prevent communities like Klamath Falls, Oregon, from suffering a cut-off of irrigation water.

This week, Farm Bureau President Robert Stallman came out in opposition of Reid's amendment. Stallman is concerned passage of the measure will put farmers' livelihood in jeopardy.

And in the Everglades, President Bush and his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush, signed an agreement this week that will devote $8 billion dollars over the next 30 years to restore the "river of grass."

Environmental groups are pleased to see the agreement, but there is some apprehension the water will be routed to utilities and farms before details of the plan can be completed.


Tags: agriculture army crops drought engineers news rural water weather