KATIE ZERR: Corps policy will again harm our area

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The Corps of Engineers is at it again. As it has from the time the dams were built on the Missouri River System, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has looked down their noses at those of us in the Upper Basin as if we were uneducated hicks who could be easily bullied by the important federal agency.

The Corps is less abrasive then they used to be, but the message is the same. The Upper Basin is the redheaded stepchild of this system and the only reason it exists is to ensure downstream states don’t flood and provide those states with plentiful water for electricity and irrigation.

Mother Nature taught the Corps a lesson or two last year when, despite all of the man-made engineering wonders on the Missouri River, they learned nothing can prevent the natural phenomenon when the conditions are right. When nature takes control, even the mighty Corps of Engineers can be humbled.

One might think they would have been, but once again the Corps has decided it rules the waterways.

It has introduced a plan to charge Montanans and North and South Dakotans for the water we use. Plans are to change its policies for allocating water in the reservoirs up and down the basin, and to charge for storage space for that water.

The Corps said the plan would redefine the current system by reallocating water that would be more beneficial for municipal and industrial uses provided it doesn’t conflict with other (insert downstream interests here) authorized purposes under the acts. This means people in communities, such as Mobridge, who use water from the reserviors and are served by water systems will pay for the use of the water.

A surplus could be declared if some of those purposes haven’t been fully developed.

This plan matches the Corps’ system by which it charges states for the amount of space it would take to store the surplus water, a policy consistent with water projects it manages in the eastern United States. A Corps official in charge of the project, said two federal laws require the Corps to make contracts with those who use water for municipal and industrial purposes and impose a fee for using the water. The Corps is looking at a rule that would apply nationally.
They say they are just doing what the laws and the regulations require them to do.

Again the Corps believes that a single policy for tributary or ephemeral streams is the right way to manage the longest river in the United States. It works on other systems the Corps manages.

But according to attorney’s general in this area, the Corps is trying to adapt a policy to states with western water law the same as those with riparian law.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the Corps plan would violate federal laws that recognize states’ rights to control water uses by adopting this plan.

Tom Trenbeath, chief deputy attorney general for North Dakota, told Corps officials the land along the river was held in trust before statehood and the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld states’ rights when it comes to water issues.
He said water management laws have historically been treated differently between eastern and western states.

Maybe the Corps officials thought we wouldn’t remember those little facts.

The Corps thinks it is fine to charge Montanans for the water that is stored behind Fort Peck Dam. They think it is a good idea to charge the people of North Dakota for water that is stored behind Garrison and South Dakotans for water in the system behind the dams the Corps built here.

The people downstream of the dams would not pay anything while benefiting from flood control, water supplies and electricity generated by the dams.

Once again the Corps of Engineers is treating the people who live in the Upper Basin as they historically have since this system was built along the river: like they are only doing what is right and we should shut up and accept what the “Mighty OZ” is going to do.

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