In the Spotlight
The New Madrid Levee Project is a proposal by the Corps of Engineers to build a new 60 foot high, quarter mile long levee and two huge pumping plants along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri. The Corps wants to spend $165 million taxpayer dollars on this project to promote intensified use of the New Madrid Floodway, an area that provides vital fish and wildlife habitat and flood protection
The New Madrid Floodway is an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem, and provides vital fish and wildlife habitat. The area is particularly important because it is the last place where the Mississippi River connects to its backwater floodplain in the state of Missouri. The river and floodplain connection allows the regular exchange of water, nutrients, and energy that is the ecological driver of this vital area.
The New Madrid Levee would sever this vital river-floodplain connection with devastating impacts. It would drain more than 53,000 acres of wetlands – an area of wetlands larger than the District of Columbia – and eliminate the most important backwater fisheries habitat in the Middle Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes the Project because it “would cause substantial, irretrievable losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife resources, and greatly diminish rare and unique habitats found in southeast Missouri.”
The New Madrid Floodway also provides critical flood protection. During extreme floods, water is diverted into the Floodway’s 130,000 acres protecting dozens of river communities in Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. It has always been a challenge to operate the Floodway in a timely manner, and increasing use of the Floodway will make it even harder to do so. In 2011, Missouri sued to stop use of the Floodway and the resulting delay led to catastrophic flooding in Olive Branch, Illinois where 50 homes were destroyed. After the Floodway was activated in 2011, water levels at Cairo Illinois dropped 2.7 feet in just 48 hours.
The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority – and the responsibility – to stop the New Madrid Levee Project under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. This provision allows EPA to veto a project that would have an unacceptable adverse effect on fish and wildlife. A Clean Water Act veto would stop this project once and for all.
Many Water Protection Network members are working together to stop this project. Ninety conservation organizations; dozens of community leaders from Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky; Senator Dick Durbin; and more than 20,000 members of the public have already called for an EPA veto. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls the project “a horrible idea” that should be stopped by EPA.
UPDATE: Your hard work has paid off and the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project has been stopped! Take a look at the key documents and petition that helped drive this boondoggle project into the ground:
View letters supporting the Clean Water Act 404(c) Veto
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources, November 2015
- Groups and Leaders Supporting Veto, October 2015
- Assoc. of State Floodplain Managers, October 2015
- Senator Durbin Letter to EPA and CEQ, July 30th, 2015
- Community Leaders Letter, December 16th, 2014
- Letter to President Obama, December 16th, 2014
- Letter to Administrator Gina McCarthy, EPA, August 11th, 2014
To learn more about a 404(c) Veto, click on this 404(c) Fact Sheet.
See what others are saying: Media Coverage and Blogs
12-30-14: Editorial St. Louis Post Dispatch, EPA Should Kill New Madrid Floodway Project
02-16-13: Editorial, Washington Post, A Watery Waste of Taxpayers’ Money
12-16-14: AP Story, Black Leaders Speak Out Against Missouri Levee Project (picked up by 40 outlets)
12-16-14: St. Louis Post Dispatch, Environmental groups and Cairo, Ill., officials urge EPA to veto New Madrid levee
12-16-14: Greenwire, Greens, local officials urge EPA to nix levee extension
12-16-14: Two radio stories covering veto request letters
02-24-15: NPR, Harvest Public Media (radio and blog), Kristofor Husted KBIA, Army Corps projects pits farmland against flood threat
03-23-15: KBIA 91.3, Mid-Missouri Public Radio, Kristofor Husted, Dogfight on the Rising River
03-25-15: Sikeston Standard Democrat, Flood-control project finds supporters, few foes at meeting (Corps high water tour)
03-26-15: Southeast Missourian, Environmental groups want flood-control project vetoed
- Prairie Rivers Network “How About a Bit of Consistency”, Summer 2007
- American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers 2014 “America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2014: Middle Mississippi River”
- American Rivers “Middle Mississippi River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014,” April 2014
- American Rivers “From the Mississippi ‘s 1993 Flood to Today,” April 2014
- American Rivers “Tell The U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers To Abandon The New Madrid Levee,” August 2014
- American Rivers “Big Rivers Need Big Wetlands,” August 2014
- Nicollet Island Coalition “Veto the New Madrid Floodway Project,” December 2014
- American Rivers “Veto the New Madrid Floodway Project,” December 2014
- American Rivers “New Madrid Levee Project Criticized by Peers,” March 2015
- Nicollet Island Coalition “Some Faces of the New Madrid Floodway,” April 2015
- Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter “Spring Showers Call for Floodway Protection, Not Another Bad Project,” July 2015
- Nicollet Island Coalition, “Why was the New Madrid Levee Project Ever Approved? A Rhetorical Question,” August 2015
- National Wildlife Federation, “What Else Could Taxpayers Get for $165 Million,” April 2015
- Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter “St. Johns Bayou – New Madrid Floodway Project Threatens People and Wildlife,” October 2015
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment, “St. John’s Bayou/New Madrid Floodway Boondoggle Returns”
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment, “The St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway project is a waste of taxpayer’s dollars”, August 2015
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment, “Rethinking St. John’s Bayou & The New Madrid Floodway”, June 2016
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment, ‘When is a Floodway, Not a Floodway?”
- NEW: Praire Rivers Network, “More than 50,000 Acres of Wetlands Protected from Destructive Project”, January 2017
- NEW: American Rivers, “Obama’s Gift to Mississippi River”, February 2017
- NEW: Water Protection Network, “More than 50,000 Acres of Wetlands Protected from Destructive Project”, February 2017
The Apalachicola River is one of the most productive river systems in North America and is the biological factory that fuels the Apalachicola Bay and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Commercial and recreational fishing in the Apalachicola River and Bay contribute almost $400 million to the local economy each year and directly support up to 85 percent of the local population.
Despite its enormous ecological value, the Apalachicola River has been severely degraded by the construction and operation of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) System of federal dams and reservoirs and a long history of federal navigational dredging. Among many other problems, the Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of the ACF System has starved the Apalachicola of the freshwater flows needed to sustain a healthy and vibrant river, floodplain, and bay.
Florida’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection recently told Congress that “the ecosystem and, indeed, the very way of life for generations of Floridians will be devastated” if we do not restore historic flow patterns to the Apalachicola River.
In 2005, Network members successfully stopped navigation dredging on the Apalachicola River. We are now working to ensure that the Apalachicola River and Bay will receive the freshwater flows they need to support, restore, and reestablish a thriving ecosystem, healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and a vibrant resource-based economy.
Member Projects in the Field
Delaware River Deepening
Despite extensive opposition from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Delaware Nature Society, and other local and national groups – including litigation – the Corps is deepening over 100 miles of the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet. The project will cause significant harm, including resuspending heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins in the River, letting saltwater move higher up into the river, and threatening the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the world and the migratory birds that rely on them. A 2002 GAO report concluded that the Corps’ economic findings for this project were “based on miscalculations, invalid assumptions, and outdated information.”
Montauk Point Lighthouse Revetment
The Corps of Engineers has proposed spending $18 million to attempt to protect the Montauk Point Lighthouse by armoring the beach front with extensive stone revetment. This would be the 6th major attempt at preventing natural beach erosion since 1946. The Corps’ proposal would stop the natural beach erosion that supplies sand to all of Long Island’s ocean beaches. Relocating the lighthouse further from the ocean shore would save money in the long run, and provide a lasting solution that does not inhibit natural beach formation. Renewed interest and increased funding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy threaten to move this destructive project forward.
- Details on the Corps’ Plan
- For Montauk, It’s Lighthouse vs. Surf’s Up!, New York Times, 11-14-06.
- For more information, please contact Chris Manthey at Environmental Background Information Center.
Defeating the Duck River Dam…Again
Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA) sued the Corps on Sept. 5, 2007 to stop the construction of a dam on Alabama’s Duck River. The Corps-issued section 404 permit that ARA is challenging is a re-issuance of a flawed 2000 corps-issued permit that a federal district judge vacated based on the proposed dam’s cumulative impacts on water quality and downstream flows.
Grand Prairie Irrigation Demonstration Project
At $420 million, this Corps of Engineers irrigation “demonstration” project would draw water from the White River, lowering water levels and damaging the White River and Cache River National Wildlife Refuges, providing irrigation to a small number of heavily subsidized rice farmers at a taxpayer cost of over $480,000 per farm. Irrigation has never before been a primary purpose of Corps of Engineers projects.
- Arkansas Wildlife Federation’s Grand Prairie Website
- For more information please contact David Carruth, Arkansas Wildlife Federation
Restoring Freshwater Flows to the Apalachicola River
The Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) system of federal dams and reservoirs is keeping vital freshwater flows from reaching the Apalachicola River and Bay. Florida’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection recently told Congress that “the ecosystem and, indeed, the very way of life for generations of Floridians will be devastated” if we do not restore historic flow patterns to the Apalachicola River. Network members are working to require the Corps to manage the ACF so that the Apalachicola River and Bay will receive the freshwater flows they need to support a thriving ecosystem, healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and a vibrant resource-based economy.
Savannah Harbor Expansion Project
The Corps is deepening a 16-mile section of the shipping channel in the Savannah Harbor from its current 42 foot depth down to 47 feet. This $706 million project will reduce the remaining tidal freshwater marsh in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge System by 50 percent, lower dissolved oxygen levels, and jeopardize the population of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. While aggressive efforts to stop the deepening were unsuccessful, conservation organizations represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center obtained important mitigation requirements that will help reduce the project’s long term impacts. These include new wetlands mitigation, land preservation, and other measures, funded by $33.5 million from the Georgia Ports Authority.
Industrial Canal Lock Expansion
Despite overwhelming community opposition and the critical need to focus federal funding on restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, the Corps has resurrected planning for expanding the Industrial Canal. The courts rejected both the Corps’ 1998 and 2009 environmental impact statements on this project, and in 2012 the Port of New Orleans announced that it would no longer act as the project’s local sponsor. Resurrecting this study is a prime example of the Corps’ often misplaced priorities and its failure to listen to communities affected by its actions. Network members continue their fight to stop this project.
- National Wildlife Federation Scoping Comments on the Industrial Canal Lock Expansion
- Corps moving forward with industrial canal expansion project on its own
- “Price for new lock swells to $1.3 billion, corps says“ The Times-Picayune, October 16, 2008
- Corps Releases Draft SEIS, October 2008. Comments due on Nov. 24, 2008.
- Report: Failure to Hold Water – Economics of the New Lock Project for the Industrial Canal, New Orleans, Dec. 2007
- WWLTV New Orleans Channel 4, “Spending millions for a deep draft lock cannot be justified, Dec. 2007.
- “New study rejects canal lock plans,” The Times-Picayune, Dec. 5, 2007
- Contact Sierra Club’s Darryl Maley-Wiley or CAWIC’s John Koeferl to get involved.
- Comments from 28 Organizations on Final SEIS Opposing Lock Expansion (May 4, 2009)
- Comments from 24 National and Local Community, Faith, Civic and Environmental Groups on Corps SEIS Opposing the Lock Expansion (Jan. 26, 2009)
Saving 200,000 Acres of Wetands!
In one of the greatest water-related conservation victories of our time, the Network and its member groups led successful efforts to obtain a Clean Water Act veto of the devastating Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant. EPA’s August 2008 veto has protected more than 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands – an area larger than all 5 boroughs of New York City – in the heart of the Mississippi River flyway. The Network led local and national outreach efforts critical to this victory, providing crucial support to the extensive advocacy work carried out by numerous Network members on this project.
- EPA’s Final Determination to veto the project, August 30, 2008.
- American River’s Yazoo Advocacy website has fact sheets, the corps EIS, a scientist letter, editorials, an independent economic analysis, and other materials.
- Corps Reform Network Sign On Letter in support of EPA’s veto, which was submitted as an official public comment on May 5, 2008.
- Comments by a Coalition of Organizations supporting EPA’s veto of the Yazoo Pumps project submitted to EPA on May 5.
- Jackson Free Press News Article from April 23, 2008 reporting on EPA’s April 17th Public Hearing in Vicksburg MS, where hundreds showed up in support of EPA’s Veto to ‘Dump the Pumps.’
Arkansas River Channel Deepening
The Corps of Engineers’ has proposed converting 445 miles of the Arkansas River from a 9 foot to a 12 foot river channel so that Tulsa, OK can operate as an expanded seaport. This project would cause significant harm to fish and wildlife habitat, and at best provide only meager long term benefits. It would be a huge waste of taxpayer money.
New Madrid Levee Project
The $165 million St. Johns-New Madrid Levee project would cut the Mississippi River off from the last remaining area where it connects to its backwater floodplain in the state of Missouri. By destroying this rare river-floodplain connection, the project will drain an area of wetlands larger than the District of Columbia, eliminate the most important backwater fisheries habitat in the Middle Mississippi River, and threaten the safety of river communities. The Corps of Engineers is poised to recommend construction even though its own leadership has called the project an “economic dud” with “huge environmental consequences.” A large coalition of Network members and community leaders are working to convince the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a Clean Water Act veto of this project.
Missouri River Restoration
Record-breaking flooding on the Missouri River in 2011 underscores the urgency to restore the River’s natural defenses to improve wildlife habitat and protect farmland and communities. Unfortunately, Congress continues to put up roadblocks to effective implementation of the Missouri River restoration program.
- Missouri River Restoration Programs: Funding Challenges and Opportunities (Powerpoint Presentation by Dr. Marian Maas, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, March 19, 2012)
Minnesota and North Dakota
Fargo Moorhead Diversion Project / Red River Diversion
The costs of this highly destructive project have skyrocketed along with the risks to communities. The $2 billion project would create a 36 mile long river diversion and a high hazard dam for water storage upstream of the communities of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota. The project would cause significant harm to fish and wildlife habitat, destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands, and put communities at risk to promote development in a floodplain area. Restoring wetlands upstream that would provide natural water storage provides a better flood solution. While Congress has not appropriated funding to this dangerous project, the local sponsor is moving forward with some project features. However, a Federal District Court recently directed the local sponsor to stop work until the state of Minnesota issues a required permit.
- Dayton blasts North Dakota over Red River diversion project
- BLAIN JOHNSON: Time for Fargo to rethink diversion plan
- ‘The Waffle’ developed by University of North Dakota uses upper-watershed water detention and wetlands restoration to help reduce flooding without jeopardizing public safety or the environment.
- Coalition Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement, August 9, 2010
For more information, contact the MnDak Upstream Coalition.
Upper Mississippi River States
Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Lock Expansions
At a cost of over $2 billion, this navigation lock expansion project on the Upper Mississippi River was discredited in 2001 when the Corps was caught manipulating economic models. A recent Corps’ economic study found only 20 cents of benefits for each taxpayer dollar that would be spent based on existing traffic trends and traffic continues to decline. This project would further impact numerous species of fish and mussels and degrade the Mississippi Flyway and 275,000 acres of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Dollars instead should be directed at restoring the river’s declining ecosystem.
- Big Price – Little Benefit – Proposed Locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Are Not Economically Viable, A Nicollet Island Coalition Report, February 2010
- Fact Sheet: Costly Boondoggle Will Waste Scarce Funds
- Economic Analysis by C. Phillip Baumel, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics, Iowa State University
Idaho, Oregon, Washington
Breaching 4 Lower Snake River Dams
The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and others are working to convince the Corps to breach 4 dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State. The Corps manages these dams for power generation and barge traffic at the expense of threatened native salmon, only 1% of which can reach their native spawning grounds to reproduce. Removing the dams is the most effective way to restore native salmon and would provide a host of additional environmental benefits.