Monday, December 12, 2011

GAO: Actions Needed to Resolve Environmental and Flooding Concerns Surrounding Mississippi River Training Structures

In a December 9 report to Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY-1), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL-11) Ranking Member of the T&I Subcommittee on Aviation, the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Army Corps of Engineers' Middle Mississippi River projects have not always complied with all environmental requirements; and may in the long run have destroyed habitat and worsened flooding along the River. Here is a link to the GAO report summary web page, and links to the full report and a report highlights' sheet (the latter two being PDF files).

Among some of the GAO's key findings are that:
  • The Army Corps routinely assesses some of the hydrological impacts of the Middle Mississippi training structures that it constructs, but not of their environmental impacts (training structures being "dikes to 'train' the Mississippi River channel and maintain adequate depth for navigation").
  • Researchers have routinely highlighted two key areas of concern with respect to those river training structures: degradation of river habitat and increased flooding.
  • Regarding flooding, the Army Corps disagrees with researchers' concerns that its structures have led to an increase in Mississippi River stages during high flow events, and has undertaken various studies in efforts to support its supposition.
In response to these findings, the GAO recommends that the Army Corps:
  • Prepare an environmental assessment for river training structures in the Middle Mississippi River.
  • Obtain required water quality permits for any new structures, and
  • Conduct physical and numerical modeling to assess the cumulative impacts of those structures on River flood heights.

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