Neglecting the Missouri River Has Consequences Downstream

Coalition Report
By Alicia Lloyd, Clean Water Policy Coordinator
Coalition for the Environment

Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) applauds the Enterprise Holdings Foundation $30 million grant to the Nature Conservancy (TNC) for work to, among other efforts, reduce nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River. Reducing nutrient runoff in the midwest would improve the health of our inland waters and ultimately, reduce the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thirty million dollars seems like a lot of money until it is put into a regional perspective.
Unfortunately, Missouri’s largest, and the nation’s largest, river was not included in the Foundation grant. The Missouri River is a major contributor of nutrients to the Mississippi River. It is also a river that for nearly a century has been severely altered by the Army Corps of Engineers primarily for expanding barge shipping and eliminating flooding. While achieving neither, these straight-jacketing alterations have destroyed at least a half million acres of productive river and floodplain habitat.

Ironically, flooding is actually worse now because these alterations have left no place for water to safely spread to during a flood, increasing flood heights and damages. The damage done to the Missouri River is unprecedented.

To be fair, the Corps has been working with the US Fish & Wildlife Service for over 30 years to return about 167,000 acres back to the river and floodplain through the Missouri River Recovery Program. Thus far only about 67,000 acres have been completed. Missouri federal legislators have cut the Corps’ Missouri River annual appropriations for floodplain restoration by more than Enterprise’s one-time $30 million donation to fund TNC’s efforts on these issues for years of work. At the severely restricted rate that Congress has imposed upon the Corps for Missouri River restoration efforts through this important program, it has been estimated that another 25 years at least would be required to complete the billion dollar restoration project.

Nutrient pollution capturing and the real flood reduction provided by a functioning, healthy Missouri River is worth much more than $30 million. MCE has been working through the Lower Missouri River Coalition (LMRC) since we helped form it with Sierra Club two years ago. LRMC’s primary goal is to return the Missouri River Recovery Program appropriation levels back to at least $70 million per year in order to complete the program as quickly as possible. The region and especially people within Missouri must come together to support the restoration work on our great river. It will be taxpayer money well spent.

For info visit www.moenviron.org.