Farmers give views about Missouri River

Friday, November 9, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri farmers urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to leave the seasonal flow of the state's namesake river alone.

Speaking at a public hearing Wednesday night, riverside farmers said proposed changes to the Corps' river management plan could leave their land soggy or flooded during spring planting.

The Corps, which manages upstream dams and thus the river's water levels, is considering whether to stick with the status quo or adopt one of several alternatives that would increase the water flow in some springs and reduce it during the summer.

The hearing in Jefferson City was the 10th of 14 sessions at cities along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, beginning in Helena, Mont., and eventually concluding in New Orleans, La. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in St. Louis.

Of the 42 people who spoke at the hearing, only four said they supported changes in the river operations.

Farmers in mid-Missouri applauded each time a speaker rose to oppose the river flow changes.

"It seems after all is evaluated, the current water control plan is the best plan for the Missouri River," said Paul LePage, who farms ground in the river bottom near Jefferson City.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says changes are needed to protect an endangered fish, the pallid sturgeon, and two endangered or threatened birds, the least tern and piping plover.

Jeffrey McFadden, a river enthusiast, was one of the few voices to urge the Corps to make the proposed changes.

"The biggest growth industry in this state is recreation, but the river is managed so totally without recognition of the recreation opportunities of the flowing river that even the opponents of the change don't know that there are recreational users here," McFadden said.

Wildlife officials say the proposed changes would restore a more natural flow to the river -- a point contested by Missouri officials who say that June and July traditionally are the river's highest times.

Officials in upstream states, such as North Dakota and South Dakota, generally support a change because it would result in more water for their reservoirs.

Officials in downstream states such as Missouri and Iowa generally have opposed the river flow changes.

Wednesday night, elected officials or their representatives -- some of whom had testified at earlier hearings -- said the proposal would jeopardize Missouri's economy by hurting agriculture, barge traffic andutilities that rely on the river to help generate electricity.

"Missouri strongly opposes any plan that would reduce the amount of usable water released to downstream states," Gov. Bob Holden said.

Charles Scott of the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency's recommendations for the river were based on scientific studies.

"The service stands behind the science used in the opinion," said Scott, adding that proposed changes "will ensure that these rare species continue to be part of the Missouri River's living wildlife legacy."

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