The second river to receive the National Blueways designation was the 722-mile long White River that flows through Arkansas and Missouri before entering the Mississippi River. The way the White River was designated caused concerns for both the Missouri and Arkansas congressional delegations. Working together with U.S. congressmen, state legislators from these states voiced their opposition to this flawed and misguided federal program. Their main concerns were the property rights of citizens and businesses who live and work in the White River Watershed, along with federal controls and regulations being imposed on state waterways. Because of mounting congressional disapproval of the Blueways program, on July 3 the Obama Administration decided to retreat from and withdraw its Blueways designation of the White River. This past week’s announcement by the Department of the Interior was very much welcomed by concerned citizens in both Missouri and Arkansas. Although the White River designation was rescinded, the National Blueways Program remains in effect.
This isn’t the first time the Department of the Interior and its secretary has used a secretarial order to initiate a new federal program. The Secretary of the Interior continues to bypass Congress and the public in order to establish new federal designations and policies. The Wild Lands initiative--Secretarial Order 3310—would have given the Bureau of Land Management the authority to designate up to
220 million acres of federal land as wilderness areas. This designation was highly controversial, lacked transparency, and was legally questionable. Though Congress blocked funding for this program, the Secretary of the Interior has never rescinded the controversial order. Whether designations for wilderness areas or for waterways, it is a disturbing trend we are seeing come from our federal government.
Moreover, in 2010, the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers tried to implement what it called a “storage fee” for surplus water in Missouri River reservoirs in Montana and the North and South Dakotas (the upper basin states). The Corps restricted access to the Missouri River reservoirs and then proposed charging a fee for water being used out of these reservoirs by businesses and residents. There is a proposed bill—the State’s Water Rights Act—that seeks to prevent the Corps from charging fees for what they call “surplus water.” This bill passed the U.S. Senate in May and is awaiting action in the U.S. House now. The Corps appears to be in direct violation of the states’ rights to the waters that naturally flow through their boundaries. The affected states have promised to sue the Corps if fees are actually charged and no Congressional action is taken.
In 1944, with the Flood Control Act and then again in 1986, with the Garrison Reformulation Act, the upper basin states gave up land for reservoir projects in return for water-usage rights. These states maintain they should not be charged for water that is legally and historically theirs to begin with. In addition, they say it is important our federal government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honor their long-standing agreement with these river states.
With increasing populations and resource demands, water and water rights could become one of the most important future issues for Missouri, her neighboring states, and the federal government. Some are even saying that the most valuable commodity in the world today is water, not oil, not natural gas, but clean, fresh water.
Missouri is blessed with an abundance of natural water resources. Not only do we have adequate water for our state, we share water with the eight states that border us and with 26 other states, as well as with two Canadian Provinces. To make sure Missouri’s interests are considered, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources represents our state on water issues that include our interstate rivers—the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, and the White River—and their entire watersheds.
The Missouri River is a vital resource to our state. It flows over 550 miles through the heart of Missouri, connecting several metropolitan areas. More than half of all Missourians receive their drinking water from this river. Our state’s interest in the River includes other things as well, things such as recreation, power generation, irrigation, river commerce, and fish and wildlife.
With today’s world population at approximately 6.5 billion people and expected to increase to approximately 9.5 billion by 2050, we can logically assume that some of that growth will be in our part of the world. In light to this, we know that adequate, accessible resources of clean water will be of paramount importance to not only Missouri but to our entire nation as we move into the future, and it is important that we have full rights to this water.