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Eden along the Missouri

The Garden of Eden, in my mind, has always looked something like a cornfield in late June.  Just before tasseling, when the corn is at its darkest green, perhaps even blue, and if you listen really close, you can almost hear it grow.  Perhaps it is a field along the Missouri River, where the rows run long and straight.

To others, the Garden of Eden is a Missouri River that meanders from bluff to bluff, surrounded by land untouched by human hands.  Those contrasting visions clashed in Jefferson City on June 11th, at a meeting of the Missouri Clean Water Commission (MCWC), and the decision that group makes will move us closer to one vision or the other.

In 2007, the Commission stopped the U.S. Corps of Engineers from dumping soil into the Missouri River.  The Corps was digging a chute along the river near Jameson Island to help create what the Corps calls Shallow Water Habitat.  In theory, the establishment of these areas will increase the population of the endangered pallid sturgeon.  

The Commission stopped the project because the Corps was dumping the soil removed from the chute into the river.  The Commission is charged with protecting the waters of Missouri from the sort of discharges that the Corps was making, and the Commission was correct in their decision to put a halt to the project.

The river finished the job that the Corps had started, and a chute is in place.  There is no evidence that the chute is increasing the population of pallid sturgeon, the stated aim of the project.  Not only that, waters moving through the chute are causing damage to a levee on the other side of the river.  The chute cannot remain in its present position, as it will eventually cause the levee to fail.  The question that the Commission must decide is what will be done with the soil removed from the redirected chute.  Missouri Farm Bureau has asked that the soil not be dumped in the river, while the Corps would prefer to allow one million cubic yards of soil to enter the river.

Missouri taxpayers and the federal government are spending millions of dollars to fight soil erosion in order to protect the Missouri River, the Mississippi Basin, and the Gulf of Mexico from the damage done by excess nutrients flowing into the river.  Farmers all across our state work hard to prevent erosion.  That conservation ethic is something of which we farmers are proud. It’s extremely difficult for us to understand a project that will negate so much hard work and expense by the farmers and the taxpayers of this state and nation.  If the Corps is allowed to dump the soil into the river, it is hard to see a net benefit to the environment.  Most groups favoring the project would argue excess nutrients are causing damage to the Gulf of Mexico, yet they favor allowing the Corps to dump a million cubic yards of nutrient rich soil into waters leading directly to the Gulf.  

By the time this project is complete, the taxpayers will have spent over $100,000 per acre to recreate some people’s version of Eden.  If the Corps is allowed to complete their long-term recovery plan, which includes similar projects all along the river, the total bill will be billions of dollars.   Let’s spend some time thinking about how we spend our nation’s dwindling resources before we continue building a multi-billion dollar monument to the pallid sturgeon.  This fish stimulus package is a non-starter, and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

The public comment period on this issue ends June 30. Please send your written comments favoring alternative 3 to the MCWC and Corps at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, Mo., 65102.

(Blake Hurst, of Westboro, Mo., is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)

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