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Draft programmatic environmental assessment on snow and soil moisture monitoring network in the Upper Missouri River Basin available for comment

Published March 31, 2020

Omaha, Neb. – A draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) for updating and constructing new soil moisture and plains snowpack monitoring stations in the Upper Missouri River basin is currently available for public comment. Currently, there are approximately 180 existing mesonet sites in the upper Missouri River basin that collect soil moisture and snowpack data, or may be modified to collect these data. An estimated additional 360 sites are required in order to provide the necessary quality of data to better inform runoff forecasting. The PEA broadly assesses the environmental impacts of updating and construction monitoring stations in Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. 

The data obtained from the network would be available for all federal, state and local agencies to use for various efforts, such as river forecasting, flood outlooks, drought monitoring, water supply forecasts and fire hazard reporting.

From December 2018 through July 2019, South Dakota State University (SDSU) climatologists conducted various instrumentation and measurement techniques to test the practicability and accuracy of different technologies in snow and soil moisture monitoring stations on campus in Brookings, S.D. In late winter 2019, five proof-of-concept sites were proposed to be updated in late spring 2020. Updating existing stations at SDSU, as well as at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. and University of Wyoming in Sheridan, Wyo. were assessed in the Pilot Study for the Upper Missouri River Basin Water Management Plains Snow and Soil Moisture Monitoring Network EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI; February 2020). Monitoring stations updated in Carrington, N.D. and Eagle, Neb. were not federally funded and therefore not subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The intent of the proof-of-concept effort was to further inform equipment selection and installation methods prior to implementation of a basin-wide scale. Updating the proof-of-concept monitoring stations is anticipated to be completed by late summer 2020 with proposed implementation of the basin-wide monitoring network beginning in late 2020.

The public is encouraged to provide comments on the draft EA which is available for viewing at: https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Planning/Project-Reports/. Comments can be mailed to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District; CENWO-PMA-C; ATTN: Rebecca Podkowka; 1616 Capitol Avenue; Omaha, NE 68102-4901. Comments can also be emailed to: cenwo-planning@usace.army.mil. Comments must be postmarked or received no later than May 1, 2020. 

This PEA assesses the overall environmental effects of proposed actions that involve multiple individual projects and a large geographical area as described in the Council on Environmental Quality (2014) guidelines for Effective Use of Programmatic NEPA Reviews. Programmatic analyses have value by setting out the broad view of environmental impacts and benefits of a proposed decision, on which federal agencies can rely for site-specific, individual projects. Regulations 40 CFR §1500.4(i), §1502.4 and §1502.20 encourage the development of program-level NEPA documents and the use of tiering to eliminate repetitive discussion and focus on specific issues to a proposed action. For the overarching proposed action, the scope of the project and environmental impacts are evaluated in this PEA and each individual site would be documented in a Record of Environmental Consideration that will be tiered from this PEA.

BACKGROUND: Following the 2011 flood event on the Missouri River, the Corps and an Independent Review Team comprised of academic expertise and officials from various federal agencies developed the 2013 Upper Missouri River Basin Monitoring Committee: Snow Sampling and Instrumentation Recommendations interagency report. The report outlined the need to improve snowpack and soil moisture monitoring in the upper Missouri River basin, specifically Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. This recommendation was authorized under the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014, as amended by §1179(b) of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 which designated the Corps as the lead federal agency for the mass deployment of a plains snowpack and soil moisture monitoring network.

Omaha District Public Affairs

Release no. 20-036