07 December 2012

"Water wars" in the United States

Wars over fresh water are most often alluded to in discussions of the Middle East and foreign policy, but an AP article posted at ABC News suggests that domestic tranquility is under threat if current climate conditions persist:
From Montana to West Virginia, officials on both sides have written President Barack Obama urging him to intervene - or not - in a long-running dispute over whether water from the Missouri's upstream reservoirs should be released into the Mississippi River to ease low water levels that have imperiled commercial traffic. The quarrel pits boaters, fishermen and tourism interests against communities downstream and companies that rely on the Mississippi to do business...

If the water is held back, downstream states warn that shipping on the Mississippi could come to a near standstill sometime after Christmas along a 180-mile stretch between St. Louis and the southern Illinois town of Cairo. But if the water is released, upstream communities worry that the toll of the drought could be even worse next year for farms and towns that depend on the Missouri. Obama has not decided whether to enter the dispute, nor has the White House set a timetable to respond. But tensions are rising in this decades-old battle...

To Dwyer, the downriver interests are "taking selfishness" to "a level you can't even comprehend." "We suffered the impact of these reservoirs" when they were created decades ago by dams that flooded 500,000 acres of bottomland, Dwyer said. "To have some use of the resource only seems appropriate."..

Senators from 17 states along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers sent Obama a letter urging him to intervene and release water from Missouri River reservoirs. A day later, 15 officeholders from upstream Missouri River states countered with a letter warning the White House that intervention would be unlawful and would "only exacerbate the drought-related losses already experienced" by towns, Native American tribes and industries that rely on the Missouri River.

The Corps of Engineers, which manages both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, says its guidelines prohibit it from releasing water from the Missouri River reservoirs for the primary purpose of improving navigation on the Mississippi. That position was backed up by a 1990 report from the federal government's General Accounting Office, though officials from downstream states believe Obama could trump that by declaring an emergency to avoid an "economic calamity."

Martell said it's hard to envision a truce in the water wars.


  1. The Europeans have 'locks' on their waterways, a similar thing could fix low water levels on the affected parts of the Mississippi river. Obviously it would need an overflow sluiceway as well. The construction and then manning of the lock would create employment, funded by a toll paid by river traffic. The sluiceway could become an extreme sport tourist attraction for canoists and the like.

  2. Reminds me of Mulholland and the Colorado. --A.

  3. First of all a linguistic pet-peeve. Not every argument is a war. Until the Arkansas national guard enters Montana for release the water, there is no war.

    Second, drinking water vs commerce seems an easy battle. Drinking water should win. Unfortunately, commerce will win.

    1. It's not just drinking water; those northern reservoirs are also fishing water and recreational water and scenic water that boosts land assessments. It gets way complicated.

      (btw, I agree the term "war" is overused)


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