WASHINGTON—A top Army Corps of Engineers official told federal lawmakers the agency can’t legally reverse its decision to reduce the Missouri River’s flow into the rain-starved Mississippi River.
But Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy did tell him, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and senators from Iowa and Minnesota on Thursday that the corps will see if the flows curbed last week by the Corps can be tweaked to help keep the Mississippi safely navigable.
The flow is gradually being cut by more than two-thirds by December 11 as part of an effort to east the effects of the drought upriver.
“I think what we need to say to the people of the Dakotas and Montana is that release is not going to hurt you and will certainly help us,” said Durbin. “But if it looks like it’s going to be a terrible thing, a misfortune for them in the Missouri river area, then we’re in for a fight.”
Lawmakers from Mississippi River states have argued that the waterway’s critically low levels could threaten to bring barge traffic to a halt.
The stretch of the Mississippi that’s of greatest concern is a 180-mile stretch roughly between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.
The lack of rain has reduced the channel from its normal width of a thousand feet or more to just a few hundred feet.
The Corps said it will fast-track removal of rock formations in the river south of St. Louis to help clear the river for barge traffic, but that work would take at least two months after a contractor is hired.
Right now, if nothing changes, residents could be looking at a two-month shutdown.