A proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to add fees for certain water uses in the Upper Missouri River area has drawn a storm of rebuttal in the region and even beyond.
The impact could run through numerous water districts and cities including Chamberlain, Springfield, Oacoma and Mobridge.
News media have been critical of the proposal.
The Rapid City (SD) Journal said in September, “In the view of many South Dakotans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management of the Missouri River needed to be changed even before last year’s floods. The corps is now proposing changes to the system’s management plan that would allow it to charge fees for using Missouri River water. That’s right. The corps proposes charging users in upstream states for storing water in reservoirs located in those states.”
It also has generated a letter from South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, along with a request from from the state’s senators, Tim Johnson and John Thune, for congressional hearings on the subject.
Daugaard said the plan was not fair and possibly not legal, and “To impose all reservoir operation and maintenance costs on upstream states alone adds insult to that injury.”
Public comment was expected to run through October 10.
On September 12, Senators Johnson and Tune and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.). They urged Boxer and Inhofe to schedule a committee oversight hearing regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to restrict access to Missouri River water and to charge users for water taken from Missouri River reservoirs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages water flow from the six dams on the Missouri River, recently proposed a change that would institute a fee for gaining access to water in Missouri River reservoirs. Senators Thune, Conrad, Hoeven, Johnson, and Tester have concerns that the Corps’ actions contradict state water law, historical and legal precedent, and would have negative impacts on individuals, tribes, businesses, and water systems in Montana and the Dakotas.
From their letter:
We write to request an oversight hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to restrict access to Missouri River water and to charge users for water taken from Missouri River reservoirs.
As you know, the Corps operates six large dams on the Missouri River, and manages water flows from the reservoirs created by these dams. These reservoirs flooded prime bottom land, changing the landscape of our states forever. In exchange for the creation of these reservoirs, our states were promised the ability to utilize these water resources to meet various needs.
Until recently, users have been able to gain access to water in the Missouri River main stem system through an easement application process and associated permits, an approach that is suited to the circumstances of the Missouri River and the needs of the upper basin states. The easement application and permitting process that was in place prior to 2008 respected the rights of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota water users in terms of access to the Missouri River.
The Corps is now contemplating a major change that would restrict access to surplus water from the Missouri River and to charge a fee for water drawn from the reservoirs. Under the Corps’ proposal, users would have to enter into multiyear purchase contracts with the Corps. While we understand that the Corps is proceeding under a national effort to standardize the allocation of reservoir water, we believe that the Corps’ proposal is contrary to unique legal and historical precedents as it relates to the circumstances surrounding the main stem dam system on the Missouri River that was established pursuant to the 1944 Flood Control Act. Therefore, we ask that the scope of our requested hearing include a review of the unique legal and historical precedents surrounding the Corps’ efforts in this regard. To better understand the legal and historical precedents, we ask that the committee invite Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy to testify, as well as South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, witnesses representing tribal leadership, and other relevant witnesses from impacted states.
Access to Missouri River water is essential to expanding the economic base in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, where productive farms, businesses, tribes, and municipalities rely on the Missouri River for their livelihood. We believe that charging for the storage and utilization of the Missouri River water would be contrary to legal and historical precedents and would have negative impacts on individuals, tribes, businesses, and water systems in Montana and the Dakotas.