Mo. attorney general files lawsuit in attempt to stop Corps' spring rise on Missouri River

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from raising water levels on the Missouri River this week.

The lawsuit says the annual spring rise should be canceled because it could add to the already heavy flooding Missouri suffered from torrential downpours last week.

The annual release of extra water into the river is supposed to cue spawning by the pallid sturgeon, a fish on the endangered species list.

A hearing on Nixon's request for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

"We need this order to ensure the corps does not make this catastrophe even worse by sending more water downstream for the pallid sturgeon, where any rise would only add to the devastation along the streams and rivers that empty into the Missouri and Mississippi," Nixon said in a written statement.

Corps spokesman Paul Johnston said the agency would decide today whether to proceed with the spring rise. Guidelines permit the corps to take the possibility of flooding into account.

"We're still monitoring the downstream river conditions in central and eastern Missouri," Johnston said. "As predicted, a lot of the river stages along the Missouri are dropping rapidly."

Johnston said he could not immediately comment on what effect the litigation might have on the Corps' decision.

Missouri officials have protested the spring rise for years because of the threat of downstream flooding. In his lawsuit, Nixon said there is no evidence the sturgeon benefits from a man-made pulse of water. The lawsuit also claims that many of the levees along the Missouri River that were breached by floods last year have not been fully repaired.

In 2006, Nixon lost a similar lawsuit challenging the Corps' policy to conduct the spring rise. A federal judge in Minnesota rejected Nixon's argument that the spring rise failed to consider environmental effects, including possible flooding.

Any release of water from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota would take about 10 days to reach Missouri, when water levels are expected to have gone down. The additional water is expected to raise the river level the equivalent of about a half inch of rainfall.

Plans call for a spring rise each year in March and May, but the corps had already canceled the May pulse because drought has left too little water in upstream reservoirs. Similar conditions led the corps to cancel the spring rise entirely last year.

Last week, President Bush declared a major disaster in 70 counties in Missouri, many of which lie along or near the Missouri River. Five people died from floods caused by up to a foot of rain that fell early last week, and thousands were forced from their homes due to flash flooding and rising rivers.

If the corps decides to go forward with the spring rise, it would start at midnight on Tuesday, Johnston said.

Also Monday, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., sent a letter urging President Bush to cancel the spring rise.

"We already have a natural flood to test, so it makes no sense to have another flood, courtesy of our government," Bond said in a statement.

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