Water Resources:

Corps' Management of Ongoing Drought in the Missouri River Basin

RCED-92-4: Published: Jan 27, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Army Corps of Engineers' management of the Missouri River reservoir system under drought conditions between 1988 and 1990, focusing on: (1) whether the Corps followed a drought contingency plan; and (2) how the Corps set plan operating priorities.

GAO found that: (1) between 1988 and 1990, the Corps followed a drought contingency plan when releasing water from the reservoir system; (2) the plan reduced winter release rates, shortened navigation seasons on the Missouri River, reduced navigation channel water levels, and reduced the amount of water usually released under normal operating conditions by 17 percent; (3) the drought and the Corps' response to it adversely impacted all of the reservoirs' purposes except flood control; (4) the Corps' drought contingency plan did not reflect the Missouri River Basin's current economic condition, because the Corps based the plan on outdated, invalid assumptions regarding the amount of water needed for navigation and irrigation; (5) the Corps is reviewing its operation of the Missouri River reservoir system and updating the Missouri River Division's Master Manual; (6) the Corps believes that it must continue to give recreation a lower operating priority than other authorized purposes, even if this low priority results in decreased system benefits, unless it obtains congressional approval to change existing operating priorities; and (7) three states filed a federal lawsuit questioning whether the Corps' drought contingency plan conserved the reservoir's water and equitably distributed the negative impacts of the drought among all reservoir water users, particularly between the upper basin's recreation industries and the lower basin's navigation industry.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On February 3, 1993, the U.S. Montana District Court dismissed the upper basin lawsuit without prejudice on the basis that the Corps' current update of its Master Manual governing operation of the Missouri River reservoir system would consider all authorized purposes equally.

    Matter: To ensure that the Corps maximizes the economic and other benefits of all authorized purposes of the Missouri River reservoir system and other Corps water projects, Congress should consider enacting legislation to require the Corps to establish operating priorities for its reservoir projects on the basis of the economic, environmental, social, and other benefits to be derived from all authorized project purposes.


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