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Missouri River Coordinating Committee Chair’s Quarterly Update

Chair’s Quarterly Update – August 11, 2022

Published Aug. 11, 2022

Greetings and thank you to everyone who made the July virtual plenary sessions such a success. As a

reminder, this “Chair’s Quarterly Update” is intended to provide members a digest of recent developments and upcoming plans. First, though, I again want to express appreciation on behalf of the whole Committee to Bill Beacom, Jim Becic, Rick Clark, and Karen Rouse for their years of service as members of MRRIC. Thank you! MRRIC is stronger for your many contributions.

We covered a lot of ground during the July virtual plenary sessions, but I also know I speak for everyone in thanking Beth Coffey and Joe Bonneau for the news that they are seeking funds for an in-person MRRIC meeting in the November/early December time frame (although no guarantees yet). Tentative plans are to hold the meeting in Omaha, but nothing is set in stone for the location either. Elyse Magen from the National Center sent an email on August 10 with a “doodle” asking for your availability during the weeks of either November 14 or December 5, with a preference for November 14. Please respond to her ASAP.

In this update you can find:

  • Highlights from the July/August plenary sessions;

  • Anticipated activities for the fall; and

  • “News you can use.”


July/August Plenary Session Highlights

MRRIC held six virtual plenary sessions on July 11, 14, 15, 19, 22 and 28th and then a MRRIC final consensus webinar on August 8.

A major accomplishment was achieving consensus on the Interception Rearing Complex (IRC) recommendation coming out of the Joint Fish/Human Considerations (HC) Work Groups. This included support for the next two sites, which will go into the environmental assessment process. MRRIC also recommended continuing attention to cultural resources concerns, development of site designs that reflect best available science, addressing recommendations (if any) from a study by the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), ongoing efforts to learn from IRC construction to date and continued collaboration, among many other important points.

Other topics discussed during the July MRRIC plenary sessions are highlighted below. Additional details can be found in the meeting summaries emailed to MRRIC by Maggie Gallagher of RESOLVE (and available on APAN and Dropbox).

  • Mike Swenson, USACE, presented a water management update, noting that the 2022 calendar year forecast is projected to be 20-million-acre feet (below normal at approximately the lower quartile of the historical record). He also noted:
    • System storage currently is below the base of the annual flood control zone and water conservation is continuing.
    • Navigation flow support will be 500 cfs above minimum service flow support with a 3- day shortening to the navigation flow support season.
    • Recreation has access issues and minimum Gavins Point winter releases are likely (12,000 cfs).
    • The annual hydropower generation forecast is 7.2 billion kWh (77 percent of average).
  • Joe Bonneau, MRRP Program Manager, presented highlights of the new five-year strategic plan, which Maya Breitburg-Smith sent out by email on July 25. The summary budget table is copied below. The President’s Budget for FY23 provides for $25 million, up from $8 million in the current year. However, until a budget is passed by Congress, an $8 million budget will remain in place under a continuing resolution.

  • Joe Bonneau also presented plans for thinking through the first Fort Peck test flow, which will be implemented when conditions for a test flow are met. Highlights of the presentation included:
  • USACE is committed to 3 to 5 flow tests from Fort Peck Dam over 5 to 15 years to assess the viability of managed flows to improve pallid sturgeon recruitment.
  • The tests will investigate responses of pallid sturgeon adults and survival of young fish to flow, temperature, & turbidity and validate assumptions in the EIS about HC effects.
  • While the EIS defines the “operational space” authorized for the flows, the first test flow doesn’t have to have the same peak flow as long as it meets the requirements for the management action (i.e., a given test flow designed to assess one or more of the desired responses and assumptions regarding HC effects may be more limited than described in the EIS and successive tests can build on the results of the ones before).
  • USACE is looking for an implementation path that meets USACE requirements and is supportable by stakeholders.
  • Although it isn’t possible to know now whether conditions will allow a test flow in 2023, USACE needs to be prepared to act when the opportunity arises. Therefore, USACE will work with scientists, stakeholders, and tribes this fall to think through how the first test flow could unfold.
  • Work also is being undertaken on a monitoring plan that will include HC monitoring.
  • David Trimpe, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, provided an update on the completed Yellowstone Intake Project and what is being observed in terms of fish passage. The 2.1-mile-long bypass channel opens up 165 miles of the Yellowstone River, at least 150 miles of the Powder River, and 20 miles of the Tongue River. The bypass thus provides additional spawning habitat and additional drift distance for larval pallid sturgeon before reaching the headwaters of Lake Sakakawea. He reported that between May 4 and July 3, 20 radio-tagged pallid sturgeon successfully passed through the bypass channel, and 5 radio-tagged pallid sturgeon did not pass successfully. Passage occurred at a wide range of flows.
  • Anna Muñoz, the new USFWS Deputy Regional Director for the Mountain Prairie Region spoke with MRRIC, emphasizing that relationships and the ability to collaborate are fundamental to achieving conservation visions. She reaffirmed USFWS’s commitment to implementing the MRRP Science and Adaptive Management Plan (SAMP) with MRRIC’s input. Highlights of this session included:
    • USFWS has decided to shift from a Species Status Assessment on the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover to a Biological Report, in part due to data limitations on the amount and location of available habitat.
    • A Biological Report describes the current state of knowledge about the species and will allow USFWS to move more efficiently towards a recovery planning process, although it might not have conclusions about species viability. The Biological Report is expected to be completed within 6 to 12 months.
    • USFWS has identified information gaps on the amount and location of available habitat, especially on the Southern portion of the river, which USFWS believes can be addressed through remote sensing tools. This remote sensing work has not yet been funded.
    • USFWS can and will move towards a recovery planning process and will address MRRIC’s recommendation that the USFWS develop and share a timeline for completion of the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover Recovery Plan shortly after the Biological Report is completed.
    • During the discussion, Brian Barels, co-POC of the Bird Work Group, noted the variety of habitat types, in addition to emergent sandbar habitat (ESH), that benefit the Piping Plover, and that more information will become available upon completion of the USACE’s 2022 analysis of the plover’s reservoir habitat use.
  • Ross Silcock and Brian Barels, co-POCs of the Bird Work Group, provided preliminary information about current tern and plover conditions on the river (as reported by Chantel Hofer, USACE Tern and Plover Monitoring Program Coordinator). They also provided a summary of USACE and USFWS responses to MRRIC bird-related recommendations, and thoughts on upcoming areas of focus for the Bird Work Group.
    • Summer monitoring indicates terns and plovers are having another successful year due to habitat conditions. (More information will be provided at the Fall Science Meeting,)
    • While adult census numbers are still under review, it appears that the plover and tern adult counts on the system are up 15% from the 2021 census counts. (This could be a record-setting year.)
    • Fledglings were just appearing in July so data on the fledge ratio is not yet available. However, given habitat availability and other factors, USACE expects it to be high again this year.
    • USACE plans to implement a test of the Hybrid Bird Population Monitoring Plan in 2023 and will be drafting the implementation plan for that experiment; USACE will share the draft implementation plan with the Bird Work Group in the fall.
    • Likely areas of focus for the 3 remaining Bird Work Group calls this year include reviewing the MRRP 2022 Strategic Plan, tracking next steps related to the biological report, and following up on previous recommendations. The Bird Work Group also is interested in implementation of the new (“hybrid”) population monitoring plan and the “Discuss and Feedback” engagement with the Independent Science Advisory Panel on that topic.
    • ESH construction may not be needed until 2027, so the Bird Work Group does not expect to prioritize the topic this fall. Early planning discussions could help anticipate stakeholder concerns in the future.
    • MRRIC members are invited to join the Bird Work Group, so please let Maya Breitburg- Smith know if you are interested. A new co-POC will be needed by the end of the year. [Note: I am very happy to announce that Clay Carufel, alternate from the State of North Dakota, has volunteered.]
  • Work to complete the implementation of the IRC management action remains a priority for the Recovery Program, and the July 22 plenary session included three elements to lay a strong foundation for future MRRIC discussions about ongoing implementation issues and concerns.
    • Todd Gemeinhardt reminded MRRIC that IRCs are modifications to existing BSNP structures based on previous experience with project modifications. The focus is on continuing to maintain the navigation channel but in a more fish-friendly manner at these sites and with extensive modeling.
      • All sites are adjacent to public lands. Stakeholders have been consulted about specific sites and stakeholder engagement on design options will occur.
      • Ability to detect effects (statistical power) has not been affected by delays in implementation. Statistical power increases as more IRCs are built and more years pass.
      • The staircase design is valuable for assessing effects on HCs as well as on age-0 sturgeon, and it’s okay to change the form of IRCs as we learn more.
  • Graham Long shared preliminary plans for the next round of stakeholder engagement on IRC site selection.
    • Two bends and one bend segment are being removed from the candidate list; these include the two bends that are moving into the design phase and one non-viable part of a bend. Four new bends are being added to the list of candidate IRC sites (Doziers Bend, Dewitt Bend, CulDeSac Bend and Cora Island Bend).
    • There will be conversations starting in October concerning: 1) how ERDC and other research findings are being incorporated; 2) work on resolving known concerns at remaining sites on the candidate list (e.g. site visits to inspect nearby levees); and 3) any issues about the four new candidate locations, following a similar process as Round 1.
  • Four MRRIC members shared their perspectives on three questions, with four other members sharing what they heard without judgment. This kind of “active listening” can help us all slow down and understand one another a little more deeply as we look for ways to work through issues. I encourage anyone who couldn’t be present for that session to listen to the recording which was sent out by Maggie Gallagher on July 25 (and to think about the answers to these questions for yourself). The questions were:
    • What does it mean to you when you are asked to support completion of the IRC management action as a whole?
    • What gives you confidence in supporting completion of the IRC management action?
    • What reservations or questions do you have?
  • Joe Bonneau reminded MRRIC about the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation (BSNP) Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project; this project authorizes acquisition of 166,750 acres to mitigate for 522,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat lost due to BSNP construction.
    • To date, 66,713 acres have been completed; the last purchase was in 2017.
    • USACE is allowed to count acres toward this goal under two circumstances, both of which require using funds specifically authorized for this purpose. The circumstances are either: 1) acquiring lands from willing sellers; or 2) providing funds to manage lands owned by another entity.
    • Joe encouraged MRRIC to find areas of common ground and to think about projects that can be broadly supported.
  • HC Work Group co-POCs Dan Engemann and Robert Vincze shared important themes from Work Group discussions over the past year drawing on key recommendations and the 2022 AM Workshop. Looking ahead, priority topics for the Fish Work Group include:
    • IRCs – tracking implementation of site recommendations; additional site selection efforts;
    • Evaluation of Lower River Flows at Gavins Point – continue to understand the decision- making process and implications of monitoring;
    • Ft. Peck – tracking stakeholder engagement and understanding how efforts are addressing HC concerns;
    • BSNP Mitigation – further planning will occur in mid-Sept, but the Work Group could engage on criteria/characteristics of types of projects, identification of specific projects, and/or development of a ‘plan’; and
    • Issue Tracker – how best to use this tool and/or modify it for the future.
  • Fish Work Group co-POCs Greg Totzke and Paul Lepisto also shared important themes from this Work Group’s discussions over the past year drawing on key recommendations and the 2022 AM Workshop. Looking ahead, priority topics for the Fish Work Group (often in collaboration with the HC Work Group) include:
    • IRCs – discussing monitoring results, “areas of enhanced capture” (AECs) and additional site selection efforts;
    • Lower River flows – discussing monitoring results;
    • Ft. Peck – tracking stakeholder engagement and understanding implications for fish;
    • Intake – discussing monitoring plan and results;
    • Upper Basin stocking and propagation program;
    • Monitoring plans (incl. PSPAP) – tracking ISAP engagement through an anticipated Discuss and Feedback charge.
  • Beth Coffey, Director of Programs for USACE Northwestern Division spoke with MRRIC. She thanked MRRIC for its good work under challenging conditions. She mentioned that looks forward to future in-person because of the greater opportunities to build relationships, improve communication, and work together to develop agreements. She shared that USACE was working to make it possible for MRRIC to have an in-person meeting in fall 2022. Highlights of this session included:
    • The importance of progress working through issues on IRCs; USACE will continue to do its part in selecting future sites, monitoring the results of construction, and being responsive to stakeholder concerns;
    • Recognition that similar collaboration will be important on the Fort Peck test flow;
    • USACE’s interest in tapping stakeholders’ knowledge of the basin to identify candidate sites for the BSNP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Program. She shared that USACE is looking for synergies with the current Lower River Flood Reduction Study and supports the idea of MRRIC working together to lay out a plan for mitigation. In response to a question, she confirmed that BSNP mitigation acres are meant to benefit multiple species, not just listed species, and indicated that implementation guidance was the place to look for questions about future legislation; and
    • There is currently sufficient sandbar habitat on the river for the plovers. USACE is monitoring when the agency will have to create new sandbars in the future and will continue to engage with MRRIC on that topic.

Upcoming Activities – September through December
Activities will gear up in the fall, with:

  • Work group calls;
  • Fall Science Meeting Webinars;
  • ISAP “Discuss and Feedback” engagements; and
  • (Hopefully) an in-person MRRIC meeting.

Work Group Activities
There are funds for several work group calls, which I expect you will hear more about in September.

  • Maya will be reaching out to the Tribal, Bird, and Communication Work Group POCs to develop specific plans for the fall, so stay tuned for more information on those plans.
  • Please be on the lookout for the annual self-evaluation survey.
  • The Fish/HC Work Group anticipates a meeting in September to hear a presentation from ERDC on: a) its work on IRCs; b) updates regarding the EA process for the IRCs; and c) updates on the anticipated tribal and stakeholder engagements concerning plans for the design of the first Fort Peck test flow. In October, a new round of engagements on IRCs will begin, and the Work Groups will be kept informed about those. Paul also will be discussing next steps on BSNP Mitigation Program issues (including possibly criteria or characteristics of projects that can be broadly supported or identification of specific projects). He will also discuss with the POCs which topics should be addressed in joint session and which topics should be handled on individual work group calls.
  • MP2 will be holding a call in October to discuss the experience this year with virtual decision making in anticipation of MRRIC’s consideration of whether and/or how to extend this change to the operating procedures, which they will bring to the fall MRRIC meeting. MRRIC members and alternates who would like to share your thoughts about this are invited to attend an informal zoom session at the Chair’s coffee hour on September 23 at 3:00 Central. Please email me and I will send you the zoom link. This would also be a good opportunity to suggest topics to consider updating in MRRIC’s procedural documents (e.g., Operating Procedures, etc.).

Fall Science Webinars

As always, we can anticipate a rich set of science topics coming up this fall. Although scheduling decisions have not yet been made, these sessions usually are held in early November.


Funding has been made available for two “Discuss and Feedback” engagements (one each on the fish and bird monitoring plans). Charges were developed in consultation with the Bird and Fish Work Groups and sent to MRRIC last year. If an in-person MRRIC meeting does take place, it is possible these engagements could include in-person discussions on the Monday before the MRRIC meeting.

MRRIC Meeting

As noted above, please reply to the doodle scheduling request from Elyse Magen, sent on August 10.

News You Can Use

Larry Shepard, MRRIC recreation stakeholder member, shared the following update:

There has been some important, and rare, improvement to lower Missouri River recreation. The site is near RM 150, southwest of Columbia, MO and has been a popular ramp for the Missouri River 340 for years. As you've heard me say all too frequently, the lower river is arguably a recreation desert and, maybe more importantly, is viewed that way by the public. Although this project is good news, realize that it occurs in much the same way the L-536 levee pull-back occurred with little assistance from the federal government, state government or, for that matter, MRRIC (TNC and an unearthly $103M).

Sadly, these things largely happen despite us rather than because of us. Nevertheless, any improvement on recreation and public access on the lower river is great news.

https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/missouri/stories-in- missouri/missouri-river- cci/?fbclid=IwAR08xB4RM60DQQHdeMJs505GVB7qXkoDTjSO_RsaXcFC3si6jMJnbbBufJ0&fs=e&s=cl

Please feel free to send me items you think will be of interest to members and do let me know what you’d like to see in these Quarterly Reports. And, as always, I welcome your input on other matters related to the work of the Committee.

Warm Regards,

Gail Bingham, MRRIC Chair


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