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Are Water Wars in Missouri River's Future?

Last year the Missouri River flooded. This year it's at it's lowest level in more than 20 years. Climate change and the change in water usage makes for an uncertain future for the river, and environmentalists are urging residents to pay attention.  Photo by Robert Linder
Last year the Missouri River flooded. This year it's at it's lowest level in more than 20 years. Climate change and the change in water usage makes for an uncertain future for the river, and environmentalists are urging residents to pay attention. Photo by Robert Linder
August 20, 2012

ST. LOUIS - Last year the Missouri River flooded. This year it's at it's lowest level in more than 20 years. Climate change and changes in water use make for an uncertain future for the river, and environmentalists are urging residents to pay attention.

On Wednesday the Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public hearing on reallocating water storage from the Missouri River. Brad Walker, wetlands and floodplain director with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, says the Corps hasn't released many details, but it appears that competing interests, such as cities and industry, are trying to get their own supply of what could become a scarce resource in case of a long-term drought.

"They would be paying for this water, unlike a lot of the other uses, directly. They would, we would assume, get first dibs on that water."

Walker says that, with St. Louis depending on the river for its water, in case of an extended drought, it could wind up competing with industry that needs water such things as fracking, which pumps millions of gallons into the earth to release natural gas and oil. He says decisions need to be made objectively, transparently and fairly.

An environmental group, Western Resource Advocates, estimates that drilling companies out West were using an amount of water that could meet the needs of more than 100,000 households in Colorado. Water from the Colorado River is bought and paid for and fought over in court. Walker says he doesn't want that to happen to the Missouri River.

"Cities like St. Louis get their water from the river. It flows down, and that's how they get their water. I don't believe St. Louis has an allocation in the reservoirs specifically for them."

Walker says he will be attending the hearing because at this point it's unclear exactly who has issued requests to get access to larger amounts of water from the Missouri River.

"We do understand that there are companies that want to use the water that are doing fracking up in the North. That has been going on for some time, so there could have been requests for that."

The Corps of Engineers says it has enough water stored for 11 years of drought, so Walker says it's effective long-term planning that's needed. He says the reallocation of Missouri River water storage is not just an issue in the Show-Me State. It affects fish and wildlife, farmers and recreational users all along the basin in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa as well.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO