Feds, scientists share concerns with Mo. River spring pulse

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two federal agencies are backing an independent science panel's findings that a so-called "spring pulse" on the Missouri River isn't accomplishing its goal of encouraging the endangered pallid sturgeon to spawn.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spoke this month to a committee tasked by Congress to study the river its tributaries and make recommendations on how to help the pallid sturgeon as well as two other endangered species.

That committee, the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, had asked a science panel whose members include university researchers to study the effect of the spring pulse, which involved releasing extra water from upstream reservoirs in March and May.

The federal officials agreed with the scientists that the project didn't get its intended results.

"It certainly creates uncertainty regarding the value of the spring pulse," said Michael Mac, chairman of the Missouri River committee. "The committee basically said it's not getting the outcomes."

The committee's members include eight states, several American Indian tribes and people representing interests such as navigation, flood protection and recreation.

In authorizing the spring pulse in 2003 in an Amended Biological Opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the hope was that it would prompt the pallid sturgeon to spawn and add food and streamside shelter for fish. The surge of water was meant to replicate what once was a natural occurrence when melting snow caused a heavy flow of water downstream.

Opposition to the spring pulses has come from commercial navigation companies that operate below Sioux City, Iowa, and from downstream states that fear flooding.

The science panel, which released its findings in November, found that pallid sturgeon have spawned in the lower Missouri River in all years for which data was available, with and without managed spring pulses. They wrote that the "spring pulse management action, as currently designed, is unnecessary to serve as a cue for spawning in pallid sturgeon."

Mac said the corps, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the committee support the science panel recommendations to:

— Develop a plan to monitor the results of past and ongoing efforts to help the three endangered species, such as the spring rise and adding shallow-water habitat.

— Examine things that could affect the survival of the three species over their lifespans.

— Redesign monitoring programs to determine whether efforts to help wildlife have the desired results.

— Review successful efforts to help wildlife on other waterways and whether those efforts could prove beneficial on the Missouri River.

Mac said the federal agencies and committee were divided over a science panel recommendation that called for the evaluation of something called "baseflow restoration," which deals with making water levels in the river more closely resemble those that existed before the dams were built. Officials with the corps and Fish and Wildlife Service told the committee they supported that recommendation, but the committee said it needed more information from the panel about what it meant, Mac said.

Mac said there was no recommendation calling for the discontinuation of the spring pulse. The surge has been canceled for this spring — the third straight year it won't take place. The 2010 and 2011 spring pulses were canceled because of high water.

"The committee told the corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service to go back and reevaluate the data collected and to see if actions are producing the outcomes desired," Mac said. "What we do is recommend, but at the same time I think there is value to the recommendations."


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