Statement of Senator Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on Nominations
April 1, 2002
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for holding this hearing on pending nominations. I just ask to insert into the record a brief statement on the nomination of John Paul Woodley, Jr.
My greatest interest in the future activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerns the Corps’ management of the Missouri River. As the members of this Committee are well aware, the management of this vital river system has been the subject of intense debate for well over a decade. Current management of the river is unfair to my state of Montana and in low water years, has a serious negative impact on the economy of my state.
I personally have fought for years to convince the Corps to revise the Master Manual governing its operations on the Missouri River so that Montana and other upstream states are treated more fairly in low water years. Short of revising the Master Manual, I also firmly believe the Corps has far more flexibility in its annual operations on the Missouri River than it has been willing to allow, up to this point.
I recently have asked that the Corps use that flexibility to reduce unsustainable releases from Fort Peck Reservoir. The Corps in the early months of this year was drafting Fort Peck as if this were a normal water year. After five years of drought, and what looks to be another dry year -- despite some late spring moisture -- it defies common sense to call this a normal water year. Fort Peck Lake is reaching record lows. This is devastating to the local fishery and to the vital recreation economy of central and eastern Montana.
Unfortunately, Montana and other upstream states, like North and South Dakota, are bearing the lion’s share of the burden of any drought. Our reservoirs are drained to dangerously low levels, our fish and wildlife are harmed, yet the downstream states get the water they need; they get navigation service for virtually the entire so-called navigation “season.” The Corps claims they are not being arbitrary and that they are fairly balancing all authorized uses and purposes of the Missouri River system. I am at a loss to see how the Corps can make this claim, when you look at the devastation upstream caused by their operations.
I plan to ask Mr. Woodley several questions about this issue, and I hope I can get his commitment to change the attitude and focus of the Corps when it comes to the Missouri River. We in Montana have suffered enough. We’ve been fighting over the Master Manual long enough. It’s time to take a bold step forward and recognize that the economy, landscape and values that shape the Missouri River basin have changed significantly since the original Master Manual was finalized.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.