Statement of Senator Max Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
June 18, 2002
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to submit my views and concerns during the committee's consideration of the Water Resources and Development Act of 2002. I would also like to thank all of the witnesses who have testified today.
As the "gatekeeper" of the headwaters of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, two of the greatest waterways in this country, Montana takes the responsibility of water quality and resource management very seriously, both as a birthright and a duty. The Missouri, the Yellowstone and their tributaries are the lifeblood of Montana, supporting our vital agricultural and ranching industries, and world class recreation and fishing.
The Army Corps of Engineers is a key partner with the state of Montana in the proper management of these rivers. The water that originates in Montana, and the power that it produces, provides a tremendous benefit to downstream and surrounding states. However, I’m not sure Montana always gets a fair shake when it comes to Army Corps activities.
I’m particularly disappointed in the ongoing, ever-delayed process to revise the Missouri River Master Manual. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the Corps indicated to my office that it would release a Preferred Alternative “any day now.” Earlier, the Corps indicated that a preferred alternative would be released in May. Again, however, as has happened time and time again, the Corps has failed to meet this deadline. And apparently, the Administration and the Corps have delayed a decision indefinitely. The recent lawsuits by the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Nebraska over Missouri River water should have been a wake up call to the Corps, not a reason for further delay.
How many times do we need to say it? The Corps must revise the ridiculously outdated Master Manual. It has to do a better job of balancing the competing interests that depend on the river. Barging is not nor was it ever king on the Missouri. Managing the river to support a $7 million annual barging industry leaves upstream reservoirs and boat ramps high and dry, particularly during drought like the one Montana has suffered for more than four years.
This is absolutely devastating to the recreation industries that depend on the reservoirs; it’s not much good for the fish that folks like to catch either, or the endangered and threatened species that depend on the river. And, it’s another blow to communities in eastern and central Montana that are struggling through tough times, including drought and low commodity prices. It’s high time the Corps recognized the key role recreation plays in the economies of local communities along the Missouri. It’s high time the Corps realized that its water recreation sites attract more visitors than the National Parks, and it should value recreation accordingly.
However, I’d like to make the best of the Corps’ indecision. I’ve received several communications from the State of Montana, including the Governor’s office that indicate to me Montana may not derive any real benefit from any of the Corps’ proposed alternatives. This is so even though Montana will bear the brunt of any adverse effects of the proposed “spring rise.” I supported the concept of the spring rise, as did the State of Montana, on the condition that the revised manual result in higher levels at Fort Peck Lake for recreation and fish. As indicated to me by the State, Montana’s needs included:
C an alternative that provided reservoir levels at Fort Peck that are comparable with those being proposed for Sakakewea and Oahe Reservoirs, particularly in drought years.
C a spring rise from Fort Peck dam that stimulates successful spawning of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon with good scientific monitoring.
C proposals to mitigate the impacts from the spring rise in the downstream river channel and on water levels in Fort Peck Reservoir.
C that the Corps satisfy the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act by meeting Montana's water quality standards as well as working with the State to develop and implement Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) restoration plans within Fort Peck Reservoir and the river channel below the dam.
Except for the Spring Rise, none of the above Montana priorities are part of the Corps proposed alternatives for the Missouri River Master Manual. I hope some the Corps delay indicates a desire to accurately reflect the concerns of important stakeholders like the State of Montana. I’d like to hear from the Corps precisely what their plans are for the future management of the River. Because, despite Montana’s and my disappointment in the draft Master Manual, the status quo is absolutely unacceptable. It is particularly at odds with General Flower’s testimony today where he states that the Corps’ “future depends on gaining some direction and focus on our priorities. This direction will also profoundly affect the way we do business in the Corps.” The Master Manual is a great place for the Corps to try a new way of doing business, the right way.
I am also interested in receiving more details from the Corps on how it plans to re-make itself, because I fear that Montana could lose out in any “streamlining” of Corps activities, if we’re not careful. My specific concerns relate to Montana's lack of capacity and low population. Streamlining and cost-share requirements could pull Corps resources away from rural states like Montana and into larger population centers. Because, while we don’t always see eye to eye with the Corps, the Corps’ activities in Montana do have the potential to enrich local and regional goals and objectives, and enhance local economies. These activities include the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery and the Cumulative Impacts Study along the Yellowstone River. We don’t necessarily want to see less of the Corps in Montana, but we would like to see work done more efficiently and with stronger local partnerships.
Some of the Corps’ Montana projects were authorized in previous WRDA bills, and most of these have the potential to provide significant benefits to local communities in Montana. In addition, there are continuing proposals and studies currently underway along Montana’s waterways involving stabilization, floodplains, intakes and water supply that require the Corps' presence and assistance in Glendive, Laurel, Livingston and Miles City, Montana. Finally, I think that the Army Corps’ Reclamation of Abandoned Mines (RAMS) program could be a real win-win for Montana, providing much needed assistance to the state in addressing the chronic problem of abandoned mines, and contamination from abandoned mines.
In short, developing a WRDA 2002 is an important process for Montana. So is the issue of reforming how the Corps does business. We all know the Corps spends a lot of money, often on unneccessary projects that may or may not be environmentally damaging, and where the benefits do not always outweigh the costs. This does not mean that everything the Corps does is bad or not worth doing. The professionals at the Corps have tremendous expertise and skill. I’m sure we can find a way to best channel that skill to the benefit of the nation.
I look forward to working with the Corps on projects that are important to my state of Montana, and on future Corps reform.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.