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Eastern Missouri Group

SierraScape September 2012 - February 2013
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Fracking Missouri River Water?

by Caroline Pufalt
Conservation Chair
Missouri Chapter

The Missouri River faces many threats as it is asked to be all things to all people.

Last year the unprecedented 2011 flood focused attention on our desire to control its banks and live and work in its floodplain. This year the Army Corps of Engineers is opening a major review of water supply and storage in light of additional "demands" from industry and municipalities for more water.

This new review is open for public comment and will result eventually in an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS.

Unfortunately the result may be that industries using wasteful water practices will pay for water that would otherwise be used for environmental restoration, recreation or drinking water.

The six reservoirs along the river currently provide water storage primarily for flood control, reservoir recreation and releases for navigation. But the Corps' recent notice proposes that portions of the reservoir space be available for purchase by industry. That industry is assumed to include major demands from fracking interests.

Most Sierrans will have heard of environmental problems associated with the "fracking" process for gas and oil drilling. Fracking requires large amounts of water mixed with chemicals injected for drilling. Recovered water is often too polluted to return to its source. The process may also pollute existing ground water sources. For more on fracking see: content.sierraclub.org/naturalgas/

With growing amounts of gas and oil fracking in the Dakotas and other parts of the MO river basin, the industry demands for MO river water could be huge. The Corps has charged itself with trying to assess current and future industrial water needs in the basin. This could be problematic given industry pressure and the Corps' historically poor economic projections, such as the failed forecasts for navigation levels on the MO river.

Gas and oil drilling will be part of our energy mix for many years, but if we are to meet the challenge of climate change we will need to reduce that proportion. And we need to insist on improved drilling processes that will reduce water use and protect water quality. But, if the Corps' projection of use only foresees a continuation and growth of current wasteful fracking practices, then industry demands for increased water will be self fulfilling.

The Corps review includes considerations from municipal sources also. This would most likely be for drinking water and in fact many large and small municipalities already use MO water. St Louis is one. But that water has not to date been tied to specific storage space in reservoirs. What impact this new ability to purchase such space would have on existing uses is unclear. Would cities who have bought storage space have priority over those who have not? Who would have priority in a drought?

The Corp review announcement indicates that new purchasers might have the opportunity to "compensate" losses to other users and purposes. Where does this leave overall aquatic health and fish and wildlife needs? As we know, the purchasing power of those interests is limited.

At this writing there are many unanswered questions about this review. But it is clear that this proposal could bring significant and damaging change to the river. Now is the time to ask questions and raise concerns about protecting MO river water from wasteful uses. And it's time to speak up for environmental protection and restoration of the Missouri.

Check the MO chapter web site for more information on this project. See missouri.sierraclub.org/

The Corps announcement for this project is Federal Document 2012 17591. Title is, Intent To Prepare An Integrated Water Supply Storage Reallocation Report; Environmental Impact Statement For Missouri River Municipal And Industrial (M&I) Reallocation. www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-19/pdf/2012-17591.pdf

Comments can be mailed to: G. Jarrett, CENWOPM-AA, US Army Corps of Engineers, 1616 Capitol Ave, Omaha NE 68102.