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River Basin Balancer Game

Try your hand at balancing the authorized purposes for operating a main stem inland waterway.

The River Basin Balancer Game offers insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs were authorized and constructed. Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin. 

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In all its endeavors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempts to strike a balance, keeping life and safety paramount, between the diverse needs of basin stakeholders. River Basins are managed with a goal for achieving the maximum multi-purpose benefits for which the reservoirs were authorized and constructed for all users and we attempt to find a balance between all interests. We'd like to know what you thought about the game and welcome your feedback and suggestions. Please send them to Eileen.L.Williamson@usace.army.mil.

About the Game

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This game was developed by the Omaha District 2013 Leadership Development Class in coordination with the Omaha District Corporate Board, the Northwestern Division and subject matter experts on the Missouri River from District and Division staffs.

The game is based on the inland waterway of the Missouri River and its system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for achieving the maximum multi-purpose benefits for which the Mainstem reservoirs were authorized and constructed.

At more than 800,000 square miles in size, the United States purchased the Missouri River Basin as part of the Louisiana Territory for $15,000,000 from France by a treaty called the Louisiana Purchase signed April 30, 1803.

The first Federal exploration/survey of the Missouri River Basin was made in 1804-1806, by Army Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

During the 1800s, most Missouri River developments were single-purpose to meet specific needs such as water supply, irrigation, navigation or mining. The first steamboat entered the river in 1819, and traffic grew rapidly with the westward expansion of the United States.

The first Federal development on the Missouri River came in 1824, when Congress appropriated funds to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove river snags aiding navigation.

Prior to 1865, stream flow in the Missouri River Basin was largely unused except for water transportation and water supply. At about that time, the number of early settlers and homesteaders to include uprooted Civil War survivors grew, who began irrigation and mining ventures.

In 1884, at about the peak of steamboat traffic, Congress created the Missouri River Commission within the Corps. Their goals were to improve the river channel and decrease transportation hazards. Steamboat traffic dwindled to nothing by about 1890 due to railroad expansion and the commission ceased in 1902.

The Missouri River Basin Balancer offers insight into the inland waterway of the Missouri River and its system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which the Mainstem reservoirs were authorized and constructed.

Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin.

Prior to 1900, Congressional legislation dealing with water resource development other than navigation was primarily concerned with supporting and encouraging private development of water resources. This emphasis changed shortly after the turn of the century. Several Federal laws impact the authorities under which the Corps operates the Missouri River.

The 1944 Flood Control Act authorized construction of all of the Missouri River System projects with the exception of Fort Peck. Fort Peck was originally authorized by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1935. The inclusion of the Fort Peck project as part of the multipurpose System was authorized in the 1944 Flood Control Act. The Fort Peck Power Act of 1938 authorized construction of power facilities at the project while the 1944 Flood Control Act authorized multiple-purpose regulation of the Fort Peck project similar to the other System projects.

Through many years of Federal water resource legislation, several acts influenced or guided how the System has development and its regulation.

The following include relevant legislation that has influenced the operational objectives of the Missouri River Mainstem System and its master manual.

The Reclamation Act of 1902 authorized developing irrigation projects with Federal financing subject to partial repayment, by irrigators and partial reimbursement, from hydroelectric power revenue. The Act is limited in application to the 17 states west of the 98th Meridian. The fundamental purpose of the Act was to reclaim and foster settlement on undeveloped lands in the western States. Accordingly, a limitation of 160 acres was placed on the amount of individually owned land that would be furnished irrigation water. The Reclamation Act has since been amended and expanded to permit water resources development for other beneficial purposes besides irrigation.

The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1912 authorized a 6 foot navigation channel for the Missouri River from the mouth near St. Louis, to Kansas City, Missouri. Several subsequent modifications led to the latest being the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 2, 1945. It provided work to secure a 9 foot deep by 300 foot wide channel from the mouth to Sioux City, Iowa.

The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1927 led to the Corps’ first comprehensive investigation and study of the water resources and associated problems of the Missouri River Basin. The entire river system was examined to determine the water resources and the prospects of its development for flood control, navigation, irrigation, and power. The reports of these investigations, the “308 Reports,” are historic reference documents for water resource development in the Missouri River Basin.

This comprehensive investigation and its reports identified many projects that did not appear to be feasible at that time or within the scope of National policy for Federal development. They were subsequently adopted by the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation as integral parts of the Missouri Basin Plan.

Experience was gained and a large amount of data was collected in diversified fields that have subsequently made important contributions to the solution of basin problems.

The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1935 established construction of Fort Peck Dam which was initiated under Executive Order in October 1933 with funds provided by Congress to relieve unemployment. Subsequently, the project was specifically authorized by Congress in the Rivers and Harbors Act, approved August 30, 1935.

The Fort Peck Power Act of 1938 authorized constructing Fort Peck’s power facilities. The project was authorized primarily for improving navigation on the Missouri River and the incidental purposes of flood control and hydroelectric power production.

The Flood Control Act of 1936 established the following policies: (a) flood control on navigable waters or their tributaries is a proper activity of the Federal Government in cooperation with the States, and (b) the Corps’ Chief of Engineers would have jurisdiction over, and supervision of, Federal investigations and improvements of rivers and other waterways for flood control and allied purposes.

Subsequent flood control acts amending the 1936 Act were established to authorize Federal participation in more comprehensive water resources developments.

The Flood Control Act of 1938 recognized the Missouri River Basin as having a general flooding problem in the lower portion of the basin, and as contributing significantly to the disastrous floods on the Mississippi River. Accordingly, the Act authorized the Corps to construct nine reservoirs in the lower part of the Missouri River Basin for flood control. The 1938 Act adopted comprehensive plans for many basins, including the Missouri River Basin.

This was the initial step toward the overall Missouri Basin Development Plan. The first expansion of this plan resulted from additional Corps studies and appeared in the Flood Control Act of 1941. In the expansion, levee protection along the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City, and the Harlan County Reservoir on the Republican River in Nebraska were authorized.

The Flood Control Act of 1944 approved a plan of development for the Missouri River Basin based on a Corps proposal and a proposal by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The coordinated result of these two plans gives the Corps responsibility for developing projects on the main stem of the Missouri River. Tributary projects were made the responsibility of the Corps if the dominant purpose was flood control.

Under the 1944 Flood Control Act, approximately 100 tributary reservoirs were authorized in addition to the Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Fort Randall, and Gavins Point projects on the main stem of the Missouri River. The Act incorporated the Fort Peck project into the multi-purpose Mainstem Reservoir System.

The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954 extended Federal interest and financial participation, to land stabilization and flood prevention measures, on smaller watersheds. Thus, this Act served to supplement the policy for flood control measures on major streams established earlier. Subsequent amendments to the Act of 1954 increased the limitations on size of watershed eligible for improvement, and on storage capacity of individual reservoirs. These amendments also authorized provision of storage for purposes other than flood prevention, within the overall storage limitation.

The 1958 Water Supply Act recognized that the states and local interests have primary responsibility for developing water supplies for domestic, municipal, industrial, and other purposes. However, it provided that the Federal Government should participate and cooperate by making provision for water supply in the construction, maintenance, and operation of Federal navigation, flood control, irrigation, or multiple-purpose projects.

Accordingly, storage for water supply may be included in any Federally-constructed reservoir project, subject to consummation of certain assurances or agreements for non-Federal repayment of costs allocated to water supply.

The Federal Water Project Recreation Act of 1965 established developing the recreation potential at Federal water resource projects as a full project purpose.

The 1986 Water Resources Development Act establishes, in Section 906, a comprehensive mitigation policy for water resource projects, including Section 906e. It authorized the Secretary of Army to provide for fish and wildlife mitigation resulting in projects under his or her jurisdiction.

There is significant Federal legislation of particular importance to land and water resources development in the Missouri River Basin.

This legislation has had a significant impact on water resources development and the implementation of the authorized purposes of the System. It is included to provide additional understanding to the complexity of the System and the implementation of these laws into System regulation.

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1946 promotes preserving and enhancing fish and wildlife through equal consideration of their habitat needs, in conjunction with Federal participation in water resource development.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1956 and subsequent amendments provided for preserving water quality through low-flow augmentation.

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958 provides that equal consideration should be given to fish and wildlife resources through consideration of their habitat needs, in conjunction with Federal participation in water resource development. This Act also provides authority to modify projects for the benefit of fish and wildlife enhancement.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 outlines the actions to be taken, relative to protecting and enhancing the quality of the human environment. In general, it requires that the impacts to the human environment be evaluated as a project is planned, with the impacts presented in an environmental impact statement. Further, this documentation needs to be coordinated with the public so that its comments are considered as the final project is selected.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, often called the “Clean Water Act,” established goals to restore and maintain the quality of the Nation’s waters. Water quality is continuously monitored to ensure that the System regulation enhances water quality to the extent reasonably possible.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act as amended, states that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered and threatened species. The purposes of this Act are to provide a means for conserving the ecosystems, upon which endangered and threatened species depend, may be and to provide a program for their conservation.

Section 7 states that all Federal departments and agencies shall, in consultation with and with the assistance of the Secretary of the Interior/Commerce, ensure that any actions authorized, funded, or carried out by them are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat determined by the Secretary of Interior to be critical unless an exception has been granted by the Endangered Species Committee.

The Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior administers consultation procedures. Both threatened and endangered species are within the Missouri River system.

Legislation of Significance to Tribes with Regard to System Regulation encompasses a number of Federal laws and regulations which deal with impacts to Tribal resources and Federal Agency coordination and consultation requirements with Native American Tribes.

Responsibilities toward Tribes in the Missouri River Basin are governed by a number of treaties, statutes, and executive orders. The treaties are not a grant of rights to the Tribes, but as the U.S. Supreme Court has said, it is a “grant of rights from them.” U.S. v. Winans, 198 U.S. 371 (1905). The Tribes therefore retain any right that was not expressly extinguished in the treaty or later abrogated by Congress. These rights, often called reserved rights, include water rights and traditional hunting and fishing rights. Some of the more significant laws that directly structure the Corps’ relationship with Tribes include: the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and Executive Order 13007. These laws seek to protect Native American cultural resources, human remains, and sacred sites. They provide requirements and processes for the Corps to protect and preserve cultural resources. The statutes also provide a framework for consultation with Tribes on issues of mutual importance.

How the USACE operates the integrated dam and reservoir projects of the Missouri River as a system, is guided by these laws and the historical data presented in the operational objectives of the Missouri River Master Manual. They serve as a water control plan for the System and each project’s master water control manual. The resulting authorized purposes of the Missouri River Mainstem System are flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality.

This System is operated with a goal for achieving the maximum multi-purpose benefits for which the Mainstem reservoirs are operated. They were authorized and constructed with a requirement that the System must be operated as a hydraulically and electrically integrated system.

This game is a work of fiction. The reservoirs, dams, power plants, recreational areas, weather events, landforms, rivers, levees and places were created specifically for the game and are not intended to accurately replicate, in any shape or form, any actual places, conditions, events or incidents within the Missouri River basin, either past or present. The game also does not reflect any future operations of the Missouri River Reservoir System. Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Classroom Resources

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The EPA's Adopt Your Watershed program challenges you to serve your community by taking part in activities to protect and restore your local watershed. The Surf your Watershed site provides resources to learn more about the watershed in various locations. 

Explore our Nation's major streams by tracing upstream to their source or downstream to where they empty. In addition to making maps, Streamer creates reports about your stream traces and the places they pass through.

EPA's Adopt Your Watershed program challenges you to serve your community by taking part in activities to protect and restore your local watershed. We all live in a watershed — the area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or even the ocean — and our individual actions can directly affect it

Science to observe, analyze, and understand the movement and condition of surface water.

Note to Educators

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District invites educators to share the River Basin Balancer Game and use it in the classroom. If you develop classroom curriculum to accompany the game, please share it with us and we will share it so that other educators across the country can use the game as well.

The Omaha District has staff and offices in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming who may be available to support speaker requsts. To request speakers or for any other questions regarding the game, please contact the Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Public Affairs Office at 402-995-2417 or at Eileen.L.Williamson@usace.army.mil.