AG wants group to support fight against river changes

Sunday, September 30, 2001

WEST PLAINS, Mo. -- Attorneys from Attorney General Jay Nixon's office told the state conservation commission that it should support Missouri's fight against proposed changes in the flow of the Missouri River.

Nixon and a coalition opposed to any changes in the river's flow have threatened to sue the federal government if the changes are implemented.

Conservation Department Director Jerry Conley opposes that plan. He wrote to Nixon earlier this month saying that prolonged litigation over the river's management would threaten wildlife, including endangered species.

William J. Bryan, an assistant attorney general, told the commission on Friday that North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana would benefit from proposed changes to reservoir levels in the upper reaches of the Missouri.

"They want to control our water," Bryan said. "This is a real threat for the future of Missouri."

Upstream dams

Nixon's office is concerned because the Conservation Department and the Department of Natural Resources differ on plans to alter the river's flow from upstream dams. The DNR is actively opposed to the plan, but the conservation department has not agreed to oppose the changes.

Nixon's office wants both agencies in agreement, because Army Corps of Engineers' public hearings on the changes begin Oct. 9. The corps operates six dams that controls the flow of the Missouri.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the federal Endangered Species Act, has suggested that the corps adjust water releases to increase the flow in spring and reduce it in late summer. The plan is designed to mimic the natural flow of the river to help endangered species.

Upstream states support the proposed changes not only to protect animals, but also to boost tourism by retaining more summer water in their dam-created lakes.

But Missouri farmers and barge interests oppose the changes, saying they would cause flooding and reduce navigation.

Commissioner Howard Wood said after the meeting that the conservation department's staff had not had been asked for enough input before Nixon's threat of a lawsuit.

"The attorney general was getting too far out front," Wood said.

He said he believed that the two state agencies would support a compromise to satisfy both agencies and environmental concerns.

"We don't want North Dakota to get the water either," Wood said.

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