WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District and the Assistant Secretary of the Army today urging the Corps to halt the Jameson Island shallow water habitat construction project due to concerns of dumping dredged soil into the Missouri River.
As the letter states, the Corps’ dumping of dredged soil into the Missouri River increases nutrient-rich sediment buildup and undermines conservation efforts by Missouri farmers and landowners already unfairly blamed for algal blooms and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It is estimated that the Jameson Island project and the other proposed Corps shallow water habitat projects will discard 90,000 acres of soil into the Missouri River,” Blunt wrote. “Therefore, I ask that the Corps cease the dumping of dredged soil into the Missouri River. I would also ask that all shallow habitat construction projects be placed on hold until an alternative plan for soil disposal is implemented.”
To read the entire letter, please see below.
October 9, 2013
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy Colonel Andrew Sexton
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Commander, Kansas City District
Department of the Army U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Office of the Assistant Secretary 600 Federal Building
108 Army Pentagon 601 E. 12th Street
Washington, DC 20310 Kansas City, MO 64106
Dear Assistant Secretary Darcy and Colonel Sexton:
I am writing concerning the ongoing dumping of soil into the Missouri River by the Corps of Engineers in relation to shallow water habitat construction. Pumping excavated soil directly into the river increases nutrient-rich sediment buildup and undermines conservation practices of Missouri farmers and landowners already unfairly blamed for algal blooms and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. The Corps needs to cease this practice and reevaluate how it will conduct shallow habitat construction projects planned for the future.
It is difficult to understand why the Corps believes that soil dumping into the river is even permissible given the requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (33 U.S.C. 1344) pertaining to permits for discharging of dredged or fill material. The Corps is bound to follow the requirements of 33 CFR Part 323.2 when making determinations to issue a 404 permit. Section 323.2(5) states that “an activity associated with a discharge of dredged material degrades an area of waters of the United States if it has more than a de minimis (i.e., inconsequential) effect on the area by causing an identifiable individual or cumulative adverse effect on any aquatic function.”
I am sure you are aware that nutrient enrichment is in part responsible for algal blooms and hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico. These occurrences can surely be defined as an “adverse effect on any aquatic function.”
Further, the National Academy of Sciences 2011 Missouri River Planning Study, commissioned by the Corps, says that Missourians will have to “mitigate” for the nutrient dumping of the Corps. If mitigation is necessary, this begs the question as to why the Corps believes they are entitled to discharge soil into the river in the first place given that Section 404 guidelines suggest otherwise.
The Mississippi River watershed drains 41% of the land area of the contiguous 48 states, including most of the farmbelt. As a result, agricultural activities along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are often unfairly blamed for nutrient buildup in the river and gulf hypoxia. In addition, private businesses, farms, and ranches face excessive fines for dumping soil or other materials containing nutrients into the nation’s waterways. The Corps practices associated with shallow water habitat restoration not only exacerbate the issue of gulf hypoxia, but also create an unfair double standard for private citizens.
Missouri farmers take soil stewardship very seriously and utilize best management practices to prevent runoff from agricultural fields. Missourians already pay a state tax for soil and water conservation. These funds support the financial incentives available to landowners for conservation practices, which prevent soil erosion and protect water resources. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources estimates that more than 148 million tons of soil have been saved since the start of the sales tax in 1984.
Another program Missouri farmers participate in is the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is a multistate effort funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that aims to reduce nutrient runoff and sediment into the basin. Through this program, Missouri farmers partner with local soil and conservation districts to collect real time data on runoff to replace outdated models.
The actions taken by the Corps have severely undermined these efforts. It is estimated that the Jameson Island project and the other proposed Corps shallow water habitat projects will discard 90,000 acres of soil into the Missouri River.
Therefore, I ask that the Corps cease the dumping of dredged soil into the Missouri River. I would also ask that all shallow habitat construction projects be placed on hold until an alternative plan for soil disposal is implemented.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.