Lawmakers from Mississippi River states are asking the federal government to order higher water releases from Missouri River reservoirs in an effort to maintain barge shipping on the Mississippi.
The requests have so far been turned down.
And on Friday, the Corps of Engineers announced it was actually reducing the output from Gavins Point Dam in Montana because of drought conditions along the Missouri River.
Bruce Engelhardt of the State Water Commission staff told commissioners Friday that any order to increase releases from Lake Sakakawea could have devastating effects on the Bismarck-Mandan area.
That's because the iced-over river has a much smaller capacity for water movement and higher releases would push the level of the river much higher.
He also said it makes no sense to release more water from Missouri River reservoirs at the front end of a drought.
(Bruce Engelhardt, ND State Water Commission) "We're in a drought and having problems but it's the first year of a drought and don't know how long it's going to be that way and it doesn't make any sense to me to send all your water the first year when you don't know what the future's going to bring. If they were to do something like this they could run into problems navigating on the Mississippi in the future when there's no water left up here if they let it all go now."
Engelhardt said it's his understanding that the Corps of Engineers does not have the legal authority to order Missouri River releases to address water shortages on the Mississippi River.
But he says it's impossible to say what decisions might be made.
Meanwhile, North Dakota's congressional delegation says it has assurances from Corps of Engineers officials that there are no plans to take Missouri River water to alleviate problems on the Mississippi.