Prairie Rivers Network Sues Army Corps of Engineers

Lawsuit seeks to halt destructive practices in Upper Mississippi River

Prairie Rivers Network has joined with National Wildlife Federation and other state river groups to put an end to decades of mismanagement of the Upper Mississippi River by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

upper_miss_basin_mapSince the 1930s, the Corps has managed the Upper Mississippi River primarily for navigation. Prioritizing navigation over other uses has come at great expense to the health of the river and to the safety of riverside communities.

Through the use of river training structures and other engineering devices, the Corps has fundamentally altered the river’s flow and its ecosystems. A solid body of science shows that Corps management has destroyed critical habitat such as wetlands, backwaters, and side channels, allowed invasive species to proliferate, further threatened endangered species, and decreased biodiversity. It also shows that river training structures substantially increase flood heights.

Despite these harms, the Corps is pressing on with business as usual:  building more training structures, using outdated practices, and ignoring the science. The Corps is poised to build major new complexes of river training structures in the Middle Mississippi River in areas particularly vulnerable to flooding.

Our lawsuit seeks to stop them.

A federal law known as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies that conduct major projects to carefully review the environmental impacts of those projects and conduct them in a way that minimizes environmental harm. NEPA also requires environmental impact reviews be updated when the project or its impacts change over time. But the Corps hasn’t updated its environmental review of the Upper Miss since the 1970s. And things have changed substantially since then.

We’ve asked the federal court for an injunction prohibiting the Corps from building new river training structures until it conducts an updated and comprehensive review of the environmental impacts (including flooding) of its management of the Upper Mississppi. We know there are feasible management alternatives that would cause less damage to the environment, including managing flows to mimic the system’s natural flows and reconnecting portions of the river to its floodplain and backwaters.

The river is suffering and people are at risk. The Corps needs to look at new and safer ways to manage navigation while protecting the river and the people that live by it.

UPDATED 5/29/2014 with press coverage:

Groups sue Corps over construction on Mississippi River, The Southern Illinoisan, May 23, 2014 (PDF)

Army Corps Sued Over River-Management Approaches, AP story by Jim Suhr, published on the Greenfield Daily Reporter (Greenfield, IN); WREX TV (Rockford, IL); (shortened version); ABC News; the Columbia Tribune (Columbia, MO); and the Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA) all on May 22-23, 2014 (PDF)

Editorial: The Army Corps of Engineers’ deaf ear by Olivia Dorothy and Nicholas Pinter, St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 23, 2014 (PDF)