Missouri River Activist Network

The Missouri River Activist Network’s charge is to promote a healthier Missouri River, including greater native species diversity and resilience, much improved water quality, and the restoration of a more natural flow regime and connectivity to the floodplain, the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.  As part of this effort we want to increase engagement and foster appreciation for the Missouri River among residents within the basin and help river communities develop sensible approaches to reducing flood risk and land development policies.  The leadership of the Network is composed of people from across the basin from Montana to Missouri.  As part of our effort to promote Missouri River restoration and management, the Network has a representative on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC), an advisory committee setup to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consider the interests of the various stakeholder groups within the basin.  As the effects of climate change exert influences on the flow regime of the river, particularly evident by the 2011 flood event, we continue to promote an ecosystem based management strategy that brings the competing interests along the river together in constructive and honest dialogue so inclusive goals and objectives can be developed for Missouri River restoration.  For more information regarding the Network, go to Missouri River Activist Network.

Why engage in Missouri River Restoration?

The Missouri River is the Nation's longest river at over 2,300 miles.  The river flows through 7 states with a basin drainage of nearly 530,000 square miles.  The river is the largest tributary to the Mississippi River.  Prior to the massive conversion of the Nation's longest river to a channelized and massively dammed river, the Missouri River was a wide river with abundant sandbars set within a very broad, active floodplain that carried large quantities of sediment that were delivered to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.  The notes from the Lewis and Clark Expedition describe a river system rich in biological diversity, large numbers of fishes, giant catfish species easily caught, abundant game animals found across the floodplain with abundant marshes, oxbows, and gallery forests habitats.  The river of old was anywhere from one-half to 1.5 miles wide with a very wide floodplain that allowed the river channel to migrate 3 - 4 miles in a single season.

Unfortunately, this rich ecosystem was seen as an impediment to economic expansion by European settlers.  Thus, as early as the late 1820s, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to clear large woody debris from the lower portion of the Missouri River to aid in navigation.  Congressional authorizations continued throughout the 19th century as well as the early 20th century resulting in bank stabilization, channel modification, and forest clearing.  Finally, as a result of a series of great floods from the 1920s to the 1940s, Congress authorized a massive bank stabilization and navigation control project on the Missouri River.  Known as the Pick-Sloan Program, the Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized the construction of 6 dams on the mainstem of the Missouri River along with an engineered channel from just north of Sioux City, IA to St. Louis, MO.  Although a massive spectacle of engineering, the "tamed" Missouri River was shorten by 72 miles in its lower reach as a result of channelization and 1/3 of it original length was impounded by giant reservoirs.  The once mighty Missouri River that delivered marsh and island building sediments to the mouth of the Mississippi and was a long distance migration route for the giant Pallid Sturgeon has become a river disconnected from its floodplain, which itself has been converted to industrial corn and soybeans, and has lost its natural flow regime that drove the functional dynamics of the river. 

What is MRRIC?

The Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) serves as an nonbinding advisory committee authorized by Congress in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  Originally, MRRIC was set up as a forum for stakeholders within the Missouri River Basin to develop recommendations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that considered the needs of the various stakeholder groups affected by Missouri River mainstem management actions.  The stakeholder membership of MRRIC is comprised of members from each state within the basin, 29 Native American Tribes located within, or with historical ties to, the basin, and 16 special interest stakeholder group representatives.  For more information go to Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee.

The authorization for MRRIC included a provision that the Committee provide guidance on a study of the Missouri River and its tributaries, known as the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Plan (MRERP).  Sadly, the conservative political interests of Missouri, as well as Nebraska and Iowa inserted language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 repealing the MRERP.  Instead of taking a wholistic environmental restoration approach to Missouri River management akin to the Florida Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Project, the Corps, through Congressional action, settled on a Missouri River Recovery Program narrowly defined as a management plan to avoid a jeopardy finding under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Today MRRIC serves as a forum where diverse stakholder interests in the Missouri River basin can collaborate on recommendations for implementing the Missouri River Recovery Program.

What is the Missouri River Recovery Program?

The Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP) consists of two primary components:

  1. Implementing a river management plan that allows the Corps to continue operating the system for all authorized purposes (flood control, navigation, hydropower, water supply, irrigation, water quality control, recreation, and fish and wildlife) while complying with all applicable laws, regulations, and treaty and trust responsibilities, including avoiding a finding of jeopardy for three federally listed species: Piping Plover, Interior Least Tern, and Pallid Sturgeon. 
  2. Implementing the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project (BSNP Mitigation Project) as authorized under the 1986, 1999 and 2007 Water Resources Development Acts. The BSNP Mitigation Project is an effort to mitigate/compensate for the loss of 522,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat caused by the past channelization and reservoir development on the Missouri River as authorized under the 1944 Flood Control Act. The mitigation area extending from Sioux City, Iowa, to the mouth of the river, near St. Louis, Missouri, a length of 735 river miles. The Corps and the USFWS recognize some of the actions necessary to avoid jeopardy for the 3 listed species may contribute to the objectives of the BSNP Mitigation Project. For more information on these authorizations, go to the BSNP Mitigation Project page.