Battle of the Big Muddy

Missouri organizations ask Corps to stop 'dumping' soil in Missouri River.

Recent Missouri River restoration projects have come under fire from farm groups and the Missouri Clean Water Commission. The flare-up is over the dumping - or, in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' view, "reintroduction" - of soil back into the river. On Jameson Island, the Corps is cutting a primary channel approximately 100 feet wide in order to make a side channel that boosts habitat for species such as the endangered pallid sturgeon.

The 1.5 million cubic yards of spoils from cutting this channel are being reintroduced by trucking them to the main navigation channel, where current carries the material downstream. Even though the Corps reports core samples to be 80% sand, dumping sediment into the river runs counter to the efforts farmers have made to protect topsoil and keep it out of streams and rivers. But Corps officials point out that the Missouri River actually is "sediment deficient."
"The river is only carrying 20% of the sediment it once did," says Mike George, program manager for the Corps' Missouri River Recovery project.

In letters to members of the Missouri congressional delegation and Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse has asked for help in preventing Corps from continuing construction projects that are "…an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars….".

Kristin Perry, vice-chair of the Missouri Clean Water Commission from Bowling Green, Mo., says the commission is not trying to stop the overall project, but is opposed to the dumping of soil. "We are concerned about the dumping of the soil that is being removed to make these chutes. The soil is dumped down the river to get rid of it. It is not staying here to be part of the shallow water habitat," she says.

The Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project is designed to compensate for fish and wildlife habitat losses that resulted from past channelization efforts on the Missouri River. According to the Corps, the project focuses on preserving existing fish, such as the pallid sturgeon, creating shallow water habitat and improving wildlife habitat. The Corps is utilizing many different methods to accomplish this, including dredging filled-in areas, reopening historic chutes, bank stabilizations, dike notching, pumping water, dike/levee construction, and vegetative plantings. The Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are currently constructing 22 "chutes" along the lower Missouri River.

Kruse says that the "illogical course of action" conflicts directly with state and federal soil conservation programs; that as recently as 2006, Missouri voters approved an extension of the 1/10th cent state sales tax for state parks and soil conservation programs.

"It defies common sense that the Corps and USFWS would intentionally dump 24 million tons, or more than 15% of the total amount of soil saved over the past 23 years, into the Missouri River," Kruse said in his letter. "In addition, we do not believe any additional federal funds should be appropriated to acquire land under the Missouri River Mitigation Program."

Read more in a report on the Missouri River Mitigation Program and opposing viewpoints in the September issue of Missouri Ruralist.

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