River News for the Week of August 18, 2000
MISSISSIPPI RIVER: More than 200,000 acres of migratory bird habitat along the Mississippi River could be lost during the next decade, according to American Rivers. Sprawl, sedimentation, flood control projects, elevated river levels, and barge wakes are among the threats facing the wetlands, side channels and floodplain forest that support millions of birds annually migrating along the Mississippi, according to American Rivers' new report, "Protecting the Great River Flyway." The report found that many Mississippi River bird species are declining as side channels, marsh plants, wetlands, grasslands, and floodplain forests are being lost. In particular, some populations of songbirds, waterfowl, and colonial waterbirds have fallen, the report said. The report calls for greater funding for floodplain land acquisition from willing sellers, habitat restoration on public lands, and programs designed to combat polluted runoff. It also calls for the Army Corps to reform its dam operations to aid the production of marsh plants. Urban sprawl should be directed away from the Mississippi's floodplain, the report said. More information is available at www.americanrivers.org. (American Rivers press release 8/15).
American Rives has also identified a number of actions needed to make the Upper Mississippi safe for fishing and swimming by 2008, and to restore 200,0000 acres of floodplain and aquatic habitat by 2004. Key elements of the restoration plan put together by the group include new federal funding for voluntary polluted runoff reduction programs, Army Corps habitat restoration programs, and floodplain land acquisition from willing sellers. Restoring wildlife habitat and improving water quality are the cornerstones of the restoration plan for the Upper Mississippi River released this week. As advised in the plan, to combat polluted runoff, states must quickly set and implement clean-up plans for polluted tributaries to the Mississippi. To help states, Congress should increase funding for federal programs that provide financial and technical assistance to concerned landowners and should create a basin-wide water quality monitoring network.
Also concerning the Mississippi River, the Mississippi Riverwise Partnership, a coalition of groups that work to protect the health of the river, its tributaries, and the Gulf of Mexico, has asked the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) to "stop distorting the issue of hypoxia in the Gulf (commonly known as the "Dead Zone.")" The AFBF has implied that controlling river flow rather than reducing nutrients in the river is the key to controlling the Dead Zone. As reports the Mississippi River Basin Alliance (8/9), "there is a strong consensus among scientists conducting research on Gulf hypoxia that loading of nutrients, in particular nitrogen, is the driving force behind the problem." The US Geological Survey has found that key sources for the nutrients are farm runoff from the Midwest and municipal wastewater from Chicago. The AFBF has proposed as a flow management tool to cut off the flow of the Atchafalaya River, the western branch of the Mississippi. Opponents of that idea argue that maintaining the flow of the Atchafalaya is important for the health of Louisiana's coast, and also serves commerce and navigation. More information is available at http://www.riverwise.org/hypoxia/hypoxia.html
Finally, American Rivers sent a letter this week to House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-IL) urging Congress to enact legislation this fall to improve Upper Mississippi River water quality by reducing polluted runoff. Specifically, the group is asking Congress to pass H.R. 4013, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000. The legislation is championed by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and has 39 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 4013 would increase funding for voluntary polluted runoff reduction programs and use better science to target major sources of sediment and nutrients. H.R. 4013 boosts funding for popular conservation programs -- such as the Conservation Reserve Program - -- that provide financial and technical assistance to landowners who voluntarily implement land use practices that reduce polluted runoff. The bill would also create a basin-wide water quality monitoring network, use computer models to identify major sources of sediment and nutrients, improve coordination, and fund research. (American Rivers press release 8/18).
To discuss these and other issues, American Rivers will be hosting a live chat "Focus on the Mississippi" with featured experts Scott Faber and Betsy Otto on Monday, August 21 at 12 noon EDT. Scott, American Rivers' Senior Director of Public Policy, and Betsy, our Director of Community River programs, will be discussing issues currently affecting the Mississippi River system, such as water quality, habitat restoration, barge traffic, and riverfront revitalization. To join in the chat, go to American Rivers' homepage (www.americanrivers.org ) and click on the chat information link.
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SOUTHEAST TRI-STATE WATER: ABCNEWS.com (8/14) reported this week on the status of the water war between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, indicating that the Supreme Court will likely be forced to impose a agreement on the states, after five extensions and more than $20 million has been spent trying to reach an agreement. The states have been fighting for years over control of the two river systems - the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) -- that support the Southeast, with a interstate compact being formed in 1997 to decide how the rivers should be used. There is still no agreement in sight. American Rivers has described the river systems as among the most biodiverse freshwater systems in the country, home to hundreds of native fish and aquatic species, and placed them on this year's list of most endangered rivers. As reports ABCNEWS.com, if the Supreme Court steps in, it will be years before the matter is resolved, directly affecting some 6 million people in the region. The parties involved still say they believe an agreement can be reached.
In a related story, the Army Corps of Engineers has proposed cutting the flow of water from Georgia to Florida along the Apalachicola River, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (8/16). The move is meant to conserve water in Georgia's Lake Lanier reservoir. Federal wildlife officials are concerned that reducing the flow could drive some endangered species to extinction as well as threaten the oyster industry in the bay at Apalachicola Bay. The Corps may be prevented from restricting the flow through the Endangered Species Act.
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RIVER ESTUARY RESTORATION: This week American Rivers joined with the Port of Portland, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, Governor John Kitzhaber (D-OR), and Governor Gary Locke (D-WA) in support of federal legislation to implement the Northwest Coastal Estuary Program - a multi-year restoration program for the Columbia and Tillamook estuaries. The legislation, proposed for inclusion in the Water Resources Development Act that is now pending in Congress by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would authorize and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore critical wildlife habitat in the Columbia and Tillamook estuaries. Mutual recognition of the region-wide significance of these two estuaries has prompted this convergence of interests - the estuaries, where the river meet the sea, offer critical habitat to endangered salmon and steelhead and over 200,000 wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Since 1850 both estuaries have lost over 70% of their historical wetland and riparian habitat, primarily due to the construction of agricultural levees and floodplain development. The Columbia River and its estuary have also been damaged by channelization and dredging for navigation. Specifically, the legislation would implement habitat restoration components of management plans recently completed by the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program and the Tillamook Bay Estuary Project. The Army Corps would be authorized to spend up to $175 million towards the restoration. The legislation calls for a ten percent local and state cost share and for continuing appropriations over a ten-year period. (American Rivers press release 8/17)
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APALACHICOLA RIVER: Dredging may stop on the Apalachicola River in Florida as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "abruptly reversed course this week, and acknowledged that a 42-year-old dredging project on North Florida's Apalachicola River should end." As reports the St. Petersburg Times (8/27), Congress will have to act to officially end the dredging project, but this move by the Corps will go far to aid the state's mightiest river which feeds Apalachicola Bay where 90% of Florida's yearly oyster harvest takes place. The river had been dredged to allow barges to carry fertilizers, fuel, asphalt and other cargo north to tiny ports in Georgia and Alabama, but the dredged sand kills young fish. Also, barge traffic has been so limited that "the average $3-million annual dredging cost works out to about $30,000 per barge, making it one of the most expensive projects of its kind in the nation." The dredging to date has destroyed as much as 25 miles of Apalachicola floodplain.
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EEL RIVER: Environmentalists are challenging a plan by Sonoma County leaders to pump more water -- an additional 26,000 acre-feet of water -- out of the Russian River in California, complaining that the County did not consider the impacts on the Eel River. As reports the Press Democrat (8/16), each year about 160,000 acre-feet of Eel water is diverted to the Russian River through Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s Potter Valley hydropower plant in Mendocino County. Therefore, the Sonoma County plan depends on water exports from the nearby Eel River, which would threaten the Eel's salmon fishery. Sonoma County officials say the Eel River won't be affected, since the additional water will be taken from Lake Sonoma, a reservoir in the Russian River watershed. Stephan Volker, attorney for a coalition of environmentalists, has asked a Superior Court judge to throw out Sonoma County's environmental report, which would delay the water project until more studies take place.
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HARPETH RIVER: Bacteria levels in the Harpeth River in Tennessee are back down to safe levels, allowing the state Department of Environment and Conservation to lift the advisory it had placed on sections of the river. As reports the Tennessean (8/17), a July 23rd sewer spill sent fecal coliform into the river when equipment malfunctioned at a Franklin sewage pumping station on Spencer Creek. Tests show that levels of the bacteria that were well above the safety threshold of 1,000 units are now back to normal, and fish in the river are no longer under stress from lack of oxygen caused in part by the spill and low water levels.
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CHINOOK SALMON: Thanks to water and habitat improvement, the population of Chinook salmon in California is larger and more plentiful than has been seen since the biggest commercial catch in 1995. As reports the Contra Costa Times (8/16), "habitat restoration efforts and water management practices have spawned the second-best statewide commercial salmon haul in a decade." However, some environmentalists are still not happy, saying that state and federal governments are not doing enough to protect the fish population. In April, fishing groups and environmentalists filed a suit accusing the state Water Resources Control Board of violating the board's own requirement to increase water flows sufficiently to double the Chinook population.
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MERCED RIVER: Though it took 13 years and a court order for Yosemite National Park to put together a plan to protect 81 miles of the Merced River in the park, environmentalists this week filed suit to stop the plan. Saying that new plan allows too much commercial development along the river, Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for Responsible Growth feel the plan is filled with loopholes allowing commercial development and degradation. The lawsuit could also delay the Yosemite Valley plan as well as the new Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan, reports the Contra Costa Times (8/16).
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