Harkin Seeks Reason for Missouri Water Release After Snub

An Iowa senator demanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explain why it refused to use Missouri River water to replenish the drought-stricken Mississippi a day after it approved releasing water for oil drilling.

“Corps leaders have a responsibility to explain this turn of events -- and not just to Congress, but to Iowa communities and others like them up and down the Mississippi River that rely on the river for moving goods,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said today in an e-mailed statement.

The Army on Dec. 5 agreed to let a unit of Select Energy Services LLC withdraw from North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea, formed by a dam on the Missouri. The next day, it told U.S. senators including Harkin and Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, that it wasn’t authorized to provide additional water from the Missouri to aid navigation downstream on the Mississippi River.

Low water levels, caused by the worst drought since the 1930s, have threatened barge traffic for operators including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. of Decatur, Illinois; American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio; and Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis. Companies ship as much as $2.8 billion in goods including grain, crude oil and coal along the Mississippi in a typical January, according to The American Waterways Operators, an Arlington, Virginia-based industry group.

Last month the Corps completed emergency rock removal on the river near Thebes, Illinois, which was the most hazardous point for barges, at the prodding of lawmakers led by Durbin.

‘Negative Effects’

Releasing water from the Missouri, which joins the Mississippi at St. Louis, would have “significant negative effects” including potentially less supply for drinking water and loss of marine-wildlife habitat, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, wrote in a Dec. 6 letter to lawmakers.

The previous day, the Corps notified its Omaha, Nebraska district that Darcy had approved an agreement to release surplus water from Lake Sakakawea, the Army disclosed in a Feb. 7 statement. International Western Co. of Southlake, Texas, a unit of Houston-based Select Energy, will remove 1.6 billion gallons of water, according to the Corps. Company officials haven’t responded to requests for comment about the use of the water.

Water from the lake will support hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used in drilling for oil and natural gas, Michelle Klose, assistant state engineer for the North Dakota State Water Commission, said today in a phone interview. The water will be used for oil drilling.

“Corps officials told senators that water in the Missouri River reservoirs needed to be carefully preserved,” Harkin said. “Yet, the Corps now seems to have taken a very different view regarding a new use of water out of Lake Sakakawea.”

He said the issue will probably be raised when Congress considers legislation for the development of water resources.

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