Due to extreme precipitation events and substantially above-average snowmelt in the northern plains, the Missouri River system of reservoirs is filled to flood storage levels. Because inflows are expected to continue increasing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will increase releases from its reservior system. These increased release levels will be maintained for a significant portion of the summer and fall.
The Corps issued a public safety message from their Kansas City District emergency management meeting regarding the flooding status on May 30:
"River levels will be dangerously high from Rulo [Nebraska] to Kansas City for the foreseeable future. We are recommending to all our stakeholders that they take the necessary precautions to preserve life and if possible to protect property. We are also telling our Levee Sponsors to monitor and operate their levee systems in accordance with their flood plans."
The Corps of Engineers operates a system of six reservoirs on the Missouri River mainstem. The upper three reservoirs, Fort Peck in Montana, Garrison in North Dakota, and Oahe in South Dakota are the Corps’ three largest reservoirs in the nation. Their conservation storage is more than 50 times that of Tuttle Creek, Milford and Perry Reservoirs. The Missouri River is a significant source of water supply to the Kansas City metropolitan area and other communities of northeast Kansas along the river, including water for cooling at power generation facilities. The reservoir system also provides flood control and navigation benefits to Kansas.
Master Manual review and revision, 1989-2004
Controversy over the operation of this reservoir system began during the 1980’s drought. In 1989, after being sued by the upper basin states, the Corps initiated a review of its Master Water Control Manual (“Master Manual”) governing the operation of these dams.
Initially the primary issue driving the controversy was how the system should be operated during drought periods. Upper basin (reservoir) states wanted significantly more drought conservation during such drought periods to reduce reservoir drawdowns and their negative impacts on reservoir recreation. Downstream (river) states wished to maintain flows for navigation and water supply, including cooling water for power plants.
During the course of the master manual review, environmental issues, and especially endangered species issues have become very significant.
On February 27, 2004, after 15 years of effort, the Corps of Engineers published its Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) on the Missouri River Master Manual Review. The FEIS’ selected alternative included increased drought conservation, seeking to better balance the needs of the upper and lower basin states. In regard to endangered species issues, the Final EIS provided no specifics on flows changes to meet endangered species needs in its preferred alternative. Instead the Corps stated that these needs would be addressed through a process it calls a Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) and the use of an adaptive management processes.
Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC)
To address issues pertaining to Missouri River recovery, the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) was established in the fall of 2008. Issues include environmental degradation including the effects of flow and habitat loss on threatened or endangered species like the Pallid Sturgeon, Piping Plover and the interior region of the Least Tern.
The Committee is designed to make recommendations and give guidance on the Missouri River Ecosystem Recovery Plan (MRERP), which is a study of the Missouri River and tributaries, and activities in the existing Missouri River recovery and mitigation program (MRRP).
The Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) was authorized by Congress in Section 5018 of the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). To review the MRRIC Charter and other background documents such as the MRRIC Operating Rules and Procedures and the 2010 MRRIC Annual Report, visit the MRRIC Documents page.
The Missouri River Basin is home to 28 American Indian Tribes, as well as many stakeholders with interests ranging from farming and outdoor recreation to hydro and thermal power. The Committee is composed of 28 seats designed to represent the broad range of stakeholders, as well as representatives of the States and the Tribes and federal agencies. Thus the committee is comprised of nearly 70 members. David Barfield, Chief Engineer is the Governor-appointed representative for the state of Kansas. Michael Armstrong with Water District No. 1 of Johnson Kansas is also a member of MRRIC. See the MRRIC Members page for a full list of members.
MRRIC meetings and work groups
The Committee meets face-to-face four times a year. Much of the work of the committee occurs in its various work groups that conduct work between meetings via face-to-face meetings and conference calls. MRRIC’s meetings are open to the public. For more information on recent meetings including meeting summaries and presentations, visit the MRRIC Meetings page.
MRRIC work plan/accomplishments
The current work plan and a summary of the most significant recommendations and accomplishment of the committees can be found on the MRRIC website.
Among recent emphases in MRRIC’s work are review of the Corps of Engineers work plan related to the Missouri River Recovery Program and working with the Corps of Engineers in the development of an Independent Science Advisory Panel and interacting with it toward completion of its first charge: to review the science related to the spring pulse and adaptive management.
The States replaced the former Missouri River Basin Association (MRBA) with a new organization called the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes (MoRAST) which will include a director from each States’ fish and game agencies, in addition to a water management director from each state. See MoRAST's website for more information.
Kansas continues to work with the Corps of Engineers to resolve its concern with the Corps’ use of the Kansas basin reservoirs to support Missouri River navigation. Kansas believes the negative impacts of this use far outweigh the benefits. Kansas is looking for a permanent solution to the problem.
Page last updated June 6, 2011.