Members of the Mississippi River Commission met in Washington Thursday to hear comments concerning the maintenance of the Missouri River.
The Missouri River is part of the Mississippi River Basin, an area of the country the commission oversees and reports on to higher federal administrators including the president of the United States.
The body recommends policy and work programs and studies and reports on needed modifications or additions to flood control and navigation projects.
Members of the commission said they had decided to travel the Missouri River from North Dakota to St. Louis this week for two reasons — to inspect current low-water conditions and to see damages caused by flooding which occurred last year.
The Missouri and Mississippi rivers both serve as sources of recreational activity and public drinking water, but the Missouri River does not generate near the amount of barge traffic as the Mississippi.
Several people at Thursday’s meeting said the reason is because of the lack of a reliable 9-foot-deep channel.
Unlike some other major rivers used for commercial shipping, the Missouri River is not dredged, Commissioner Sam Angel said.
Instead, it has been designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be self-scouring by the traffic that utilizes it.
The lack of commercial traffic means the channel isn’t maintained, Angel noted.
Terry Moore with Chesterfield-based AEP River Operations said his company no longer does business on the Missouri River because of inconsistent water flows and depths.
Moore asked members of the commission to do what they could to keep Missouri River water levels reliable and constant.
“It is essential to encourage Congress to fully fund the Army Corps,” he added.
Moore said he’d also like the Corps to change its existing policy of giving only several days’ notice to companies operating on the rivers of changes to flow levels, noting that it takes more than a couple of days for a barge to complete a trip.
Moore noted that there are only a couple of commercial operators still using the Missouri River.
One of those operators, Steve Engemann, president of Hermann Sand and Gravel, said his company is still hauling barges up- and downstream.
The company has two tug boats which so far this year have moved barges from St. Louis to Nebraska City, Neb.
“We need a reliable channel to operate on, and we don’t have it,” Engemann said.
Engemann said he has been reporting trouble spots on the river to the Corps, some for as long as three years.
He said if the channel is better maintained, his company will be able to grow.
Engemann said he estimated the existing channel is 8 foot, 4 inches in depth on average, but should be 9 feet deep.
Karen Rouse with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said consistent water levels are important and noted that the Missouri River makes up 42 percent of the flow of the Mississippi River.
She stressed the importance of water transportation as a way to help the environment.
“Water transportation allows a large reduction in air emissions by removing trucks from the road,” Rouse said.
She noted that rivers like the Missouri also provide a source of drinking water and are utilized by power plants for cooling operations.
Dan Kuenzel, owner of Kuenzel Farms, Washington, said he farms a 40-mile stretch of land between Washington and Hermann and has seen issues caused by environmental restoration projects along the river here.
Kuenzel said notches put in levees and along the banks are causing erosion.
He estimated that he has lost 12-13 acres of farmland because of the erosion.
“Environmental restoration needs to be done in harmony with all the other uses for the river,” Kuenzel said. “Farmers aren’t opposed to environmental restoration, but they are opposed to how it is being done.”
He said the notching, which is done to protect and promote endangered wildlife species, also has caused seepage of water into his farmland.
That caused an estimated 300 acres of land Kuenzel farms to not be planted in 2010 and 2011, he said.
Commissioner R.D. James, a farmer from New Madrid, said commissioners understood the importance of maintaining control of rivers in the basin, noting that the area is part of the single largest inland water system in the world.
“The Missouri River is important now and in 50 years it will be a lot more important to navigation and transportation of goods in this country. If we as a nation don’t prepare for that, we’re making a big mistake,” he said.