A five-year study to evaluate authorized uses of the Missouri River has just started a review of original project purposes and to determine if any changes are appropriate.

The Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS) is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will start with two public listening session meetings, one at Pierre, South Dakota on October 1st – the project “kickoff” – and the second at Kansas City on October 8th.

The study was originated due to legislation enacted by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, of North Dakota, a proponent of a greater emphasis on recreation along the river and its reservoirs.

A timeline for the study indicates there will be three phases:

1) Six months to one year to listen to input from interested parties, and further define the scope of the study and its management plan
2) Two years to analyze existing conditions and to forecast expected future situations
3) Two years to determine alternatives, analyze trade-offs under potential alternatives, and to formulate and review a final report.

Project purposes currently authorized for the Missouri River – the longest river in the United States the named river originates at Three Forks, Montana and continuing for 2321 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River at St. Louis. From its utmost source at Browers Spring on Hell Roaring Creek in Montana it is 2619 miles to its confluence – are flood control, navigation, irrigation, power, water supply, water quality control, recreation, and fish and wildlife.

This will be the first-ever evaluation of authorized river purposes, according to Lynn Heng, a co-leader of the study. It has been 65 years since 1944, when flood control was authorized by the Flood Control Act and 64 years when a 9′ feet and 300′ wide navigation channel was authorized by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1945 up to Sioux City, Iowa.

The MRAPS is expected to provide an updated rationale for authorized project purposes, based on comments and input from stakeholders spread across ten states, including American Indian tribes, concerned citizens and federal agencies. Canada also may be involved, as a small portion of the Missouri River basin extends into that country.

Uses of the Missouri River and its local environs are currently undergoing dramatic changes in comparison to historic conditions when certain usage was more prevalent. The most recent document which defines river operation and management for the Corps of Engineers, is the “Master Water Control Manual” issued in March 2004.

One authorized use – navigation, for example – has shown a decline recently.

A drought from 2000-2008 reduced the tonnage a barge could transport, said John R. LaRandeau of the Corps Northwestern Division office, as there was a lesser amount of water in the navigation channel.

Most of the navigation along the river channel is to transport commodities, especially from Kansas City to the river’s mouth at St. Louis. There is significant sand and gravel mined in the river that is also transported by barges. These barges however only move 1-5 miles to shore facilities.

“The navigation mission has been a tough one for the last few seasons,” LaRandeau said.

Material transported other than sand and gravel includes asphalt, cement and agriculture and fertilizer products, he said. Corn, which had formerly been carried downriver for export, is not being moved to the same extent as in the past, as it is instead being used locally to produce ethanol fuel.

Since 2004, there has not been any barge traffic above Blair, Nebraska where a local business has carried compressed alfalfa pellets downriver each season, LaRandeau indicated. Above KC, there are about 5-6 barge trips during the typical eight-month navigation season. Each trip to Blair generally involves a towboat and typically four barges. At Nebraska City, there have been a couple of barges delivered in recent years. The Kinder Morgan port in Omaha has also received a couple of barges. The Omaha Port is now gone due to development of the riverfront for other purposes

One unique value of a readily usable means of river navigation, was apparent in 2004, when 30 barges were used to carry power plant equipment valued at $425 million, and built in Japan, to the site of an energy plant being built by Mid-America Energy south of Council Bluffs, Iowa, LaRandeau said. Being able to ship equipment on the river allowed the power plant to install equipment that could generate 795 megawatts, compared to 600 mw if the heavy equipment had to be shipped overland by trucks.

Navigation continues to generate $9.3 million in annual economic benefits, according to figures provided by the Corps.

In comparison, recreation generates $87 million of which $20 million of that is for recreation benefits downstream of Gavins Point Dam along the Recreation River and within the navigation project. Power generation – based on creating 10 billion kilowatts per year, which is apparently enough to power the whole state of Nebraska – has a benefit of about $680 million annually.

Additional economic benefits are derived from each of the authorized uses, and the relative importance of each will be evaluated.

The end product of the MRAPS study is a “comprehensive feasibility-type report and environmental impact study” for presentation to Congress, according to a summary sheet for the project. The report will summarize findings from the study process and present recommendations.

Although there is only a very limited amount of information at the study website information will be updated regularly, according to a Corps’ official.

The MRAPS is being coordinated by the Corps’ officials from the Omaha District and Kansas City district. Authorization for the $25 million study was provided by the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, Title 1, Section 108.

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