If the degradation problem is not addressed, the Corps’ economist has estimated that it will cost the Kansas City metropolitan area over $350 million dollars to modify and replace infrastructure.
In the 1930's, the federal government made "improvements" to the Missouri River channel, hoping to attract more barge traffic for river commerce. Though the barges never materialized, the interference with the natural river forever changed it.
Over the years, the new channel of the broad, meandering Muddy Mo increased its flow, creating a self-scouring river that contributes to the erosion of its own river bed. The effect continues today with major implications for fixed infrastructure like water intakes, bridges, and levees.
WaterOne Urges a Solution
WaterOne began experiencing problems with bed degradation in 2003 when surface levels dropped, risking its intake. WaterOne had to rent pumps as a back-up plan and ultimately installed a low water level pumping facility at its Missouri River intake. Construction cost was $2 million; it costs WaterOne additional operational expenses of $20,000 in energy and $750,000 in treatment each year. Other utilities in the area have implemented similar expensive “band-aid” methods to deal with the issue.
In 2005, WaterOne began urging the Corps of Engineers to look at the degradation problem to determine if there was a federal interest and if a solution could be found. The Corp completed a Reconnaissance Study in 2009 that met the requirements to move forward to a Feasibility Study in 2010. The Feasibility Study will identify solutions along the Kansas City Reach of the Missouri River where the degradation is most severe. The Corps’ study is scheduled to conclude in 2015.
The Feasibility Study is funded by a cost sharing arrangement between the Corps and 20 local stakeholders, including WaterOne. Stakeholders must match federal funding each year of the study. WaterOne has contributed over $300,000 to date, in addition to thousands of hours of staff time working on the issue. MARC is acting as an intermediary with the Corps on behalf of the stakeholder group.
If a more permanent solution isn’t implemented, WaterOne has estimated it will likely have to spend $50 million to modify or replace facilities in order to maintain its Missouri River water source. The Corps’ initial estimates are that the river will degrade another 11’ at WaterOne’s Missouri River intake over the next 50 years. The caveat is that we can’t predict when in the 50-year window that will happen. It could be 50 years; it could be 5 years. Although WaterOne has intakes on both the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, degradation of the Missouri River is causing degradation of tributaries, e.g. the Kansas River.
In addition to water intakes, bed degradation threatens to undermine levees, bridges, and other infrastructure in the Kansas City region. If the degradation problem isn’t addressed, the Corps’ economist has estimated that it will cost the Kansas City metropolitan area over $350 million dollars to modify and replace infrastructure.
We are hopeful that the Corps maintains the study’s momentum and produces results soon.
More information can be found at MARC.
How Can I Help?
1. Raise awareness. Simply talk to other people about it. Help make it a topic of conversation in our community. You don't need to have all the details, just encourage folks to visit www.waterone.org/MORiver for "mo" info.
2. Show support. Come to one of the public meetings (TBA). Having people like you there shows the Corps that our community cares. It adds momentum to the project and helps the cause.
3. Talk to your legislators. Send an email to your state or federal legislator, telling them you care about this project. Ask your state legislator to encourage their federal counterparts to support the Corps' work on the Missouri River Bed Degradation project. Ask your federal legislator to protect funding for the Corps' work on the Missouri River Bed Degradation project. (It's a federal level project.)
4. Help us find private funding. The current 20+ project partners are mostly public agencies, but this problem affects private industry too. We'd love to get private industry located on the river engaged in this issue as well. If you know someone who works in a private business located along the river, ask them to contact MARC and get involved.