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Entries in Army Corps of Engineers (24)

Monday
Nov042013

SRR Once Again Beats Back Threat to Florida's Rodman Reservoir

Guide Sean Rush with a Rodman largemouth.

Once more Save Rodman Reservoir, Inc. (SRR) has thwarted an attempt to destroy one of Florida’s most popular and productive bass fisheries.

This time around, environmental groups, led by Florida Defenders of the Environment and Putnam County Environmental Council, tried to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to destroy the dam on the Ocklawaha River reservoir.

“The Corps is getting ready to dredge the St. Johns River in the Jacksonville area and the environmental groups wanted it to use some of that money to take out Rodman,” said Ed Taylor, SRR president.

The groups also took Corps personnel on a tour of Rodman to help make their argument. Fortunately, an SRR member saw the event, asked about it, and notified Taylor.

“I’m usually told about these things, if I’m not invited,” he laughed. “But not this time.”

In phone calls and e-mails, Taylor quickly voiced SRR’s objections to removal of the dam.

“I find it very disturbing that there was a tour of Rodman Reservoir, consisting of several government officials together with environmental groups and that we were not invited,” he wrote. “I am sure that they only gave their side of the story (which is full of false statements). Now I will give our response.”

Among them:

  • In 1991, Congress turned over all of the lands and structures pertaining to Lake Ocklawaha (Rodman) to the state of Florida.
  • Rodman is a future potable water source.
  • The reservoir has more visitors annually than all but 12 Florida state parks.
  • It prevents 50 to 60 percent of nutrients from reaching the St. Johns River. 

Additionally, guide Sean Rush said this in a letter to the Corps:

“Sometimes either by design or folly man creates something wonderful and this is clearly one of those instances.

“In spite of what you may hear, 95 percent of the people in this area want this lake retained.”

In short order, Taylor received a call from the Corps’ Eric Bush, assuring him that his agency was not going to take any action on Rodman.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Taylor said. “The environmentalists have lost every battle. When are they going to learn?”

Rodman was built during the late 1960s, as part of the ill-advised Cross Florida Barge Canal from Yankeetown to Palatka. The project finally was deauthorized in 1990, but work had been stopped long before because of environmental concerns. Rodman, however, evolved into a thriving ecosystem of its own, becoming home to many species of birds and wildlife, as well as a world-class bass fishery and popular tourist destination.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Aug232013

Taxidermist Mounts New Attack on Asian Carp

Taxidermist Mike Pusateri joined the battle against Asian carp when he was approached by Mike Matta, a charter captain. At an upcoming event, Matta thought that more than photos and videos were needed to drive home the threat that these invaders pose to native fisheries in the Great Lakes and other waters.

“They wanted something with impact, something physical in three dimensions to show people exactly what they were talking about with these fish,” Pusateri said. “I had never done a mount of an Asian carp – I’m not sure anyone had ever done one – but it seemed like something that was really important.”

And that proved to be the case. Pusateri since has done carp mounts for EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Sea Grant organizations, as well as many universities and state agencies.

“Maybe I became a bit of a celebrity at the taxidermy conventions, but I’m just hoping my work will help combat the problem,” Pusateri said. “When I talk to the fisheries guys, they seemed stumped by this problem, and kind of scared by it. They say these fish eat so much that the other species just die out.”

Read more here.

Monday
Aug192013

Asian Carp More Adaptable Than Previously Thought

Researchers from Purdue University have made some unsettling discoveries regarding Asian carp.

“It looks like the carp can probably become established in a wider range of environmental conditions than once thought,” said Reuben Goforth, an assistant professor of forestry and natural resources.

Goforth and associates learned that the exotic invaders are spawning in waters previously thought too narrow or slow moving. That means even more sport fisheries are at risk.

On a semi-positive note, he added, ‘’While the presence of eggs indicates a successful spawning of these fishes in new areas, it’s not known yet whether those eggs would be successful in surviving to adulthood.”

Additionally, they found evidence of carp spawning far upstream and eggs drifting in water as late as September in Indiana’s Wabash River. Previously, reproduction was thought to end in July.

Until now, most information related to where Asian carp might spawn was based on data gathered from their native habitats in Asian rivers and streams.

“The reason truly invasive species are so successful is because they overcome obstacles,” Goforth said. “When you base their limitations on what happens in their native ecosystems, it’s a good start. But it may be a good idea to go back and take this new data to recalculate more precise limits based on these new understandings.”

Support Grows for Separation 

Those who want to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp invasion by removing the manmade connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin have a new ally.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn surprised many when he endorsed that solution during a meeting with other governors here.

“Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” he said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.”

Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council called Quinn’s remarks “a very positive step forward.” And Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said, “I think it’s great to see people talking about longer-term solutions.”

In the past, Illinois sided with Indiana, the city of Chicago, and the Obama administration in opposing the separation. They argued that closure would increase flood risks, while damaging tourism and commerce.

“It’s important that we deal with this issue, but it’s also important that we deal with it in a way that preserves the logistical advantage and opportunity to move commerce through the region,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

But Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have long favored the strategy and even sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago’s water district. In a suit they lost, they claimed that refusal to separate the watersheds created a public nuisance.

The strongest argument for closing the aquatic highway, though, is that an explosion of Asian carp in the Great Lakes could decimate the system’s fishery, worth an estimated $7.5 billion annually. Additionally, the connection leaves the way open for other invasive species to cross watersheds.

The connecting canal was constructed more than a century ago, to allow Chicago’s sewage pollution to flow downstream, instead of contaminating the city’s Lake Michigan water supply. It also allowed for commercial navigation.

(These articles appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Aug122013

Freedom to Fish Act Protects Angler Access Below Dams

Enactment of the Freedom to Fish Act in early June forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to back off its plan to restrict access below 10 dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.

In the wake of the bill’s signing by President Obama, the Corps immediately announced that it would comply and begin removing barrier buoys.

“This preserves the freedom to fish for generations of Americans who enjoy fishing below the dams on the Cumberland River, and does so in a way that gives the appropriate state wildlife agencies authority for boating safety,” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who championed the legislation.

“Now the Corps is required, by law, to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and ignoring elected officials who are standing up for fishermen.”

The Corps had planned to establish permanent restrictions, which angered anglers and boaters, as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Additionally, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said that it would not enforce the Corps’ policy.  

Under the law, anglers and boaters retain access when conditions are safe, with state agencies determining when it is not.

In response, the Corps said, “The Nashville District will be removing the buoys recently placed below the following dams: Old Hickory, J. Percy Priest, Cordell Hull, Center Hill, and Dale Hollow.

“This work will begin immediately. The Corps will also convert recently placed ‘Restricted--- Keep Out’ buoys above its dams on the Cumberland River and tributaries back to ‘Danger Dam’ buoys. The signs installed on upstream and downstream lock walls with the message ‘Restricted --- Keep Out’ will be replaced with signs that display the message ‘Danger--- Dam.’”

The Corps pointed out that three accidents have occurred below Tennessee dams since June 1.

“The water areas above and below dams continue to be very hazardous,” it said. “State laws for mandatory lifejacket wear below dams remain in effect. All boaters are cautioned to say clear of all turbulent waters released from these structures.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

 

Monday
Jul012013

Siltation, Neglect Closing Backwater Fisheries

Sedimentation along Village Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River. Photo from Black Warrior Riverkeeper

DEMOPOLIS, Ala. --- Raymon Harris knows what has been lost. He’s been watching it disappear for nearly 40 years.

“Some of these younger fishermen have no idea,” said the Alabama anglers and former conservation director of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation.

“They see a hump, with just a trickle flowing through it, and don’t realize that there’s a big slough on the other side of it. We need to educate our bass fishermen about the fact that the public paid for the right of way to these flooded waters but now we’ve lost so many of them. It’s pitiful.”

Hobson Bryan also is well acquainted with how siltation over the years has closed recreational access and diminished backwater fisheries habitat in channelized river systems maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For 20 years, the professor at the University of Alabama and long-time B.A.S.S. member has teamed with Harris to sound the alarm about the thousands of acres being sealed off or dried up in the 12,000 miles of inland waters managed by the Corps through 207 lock chambers at 171 lock sites.

Thus far, they have little to show for their efforts. The Corps continues to focus almost exclusively on dredging main channels to facilitate commercial navigation. Meanwhile, flooded backwater areas bought with taxpayer money reverts to dry land that is reclaimed by the property owners who sold it.

“To add injury to insult, many of the water projects were justified in part by the recreational values they would generate,” Bryan said.

“The Corps has simply placed highest priority on dredging for main-channel navigation purposes, largely to the exclusion of angling and other outdoor recreation interests,” he continued. “The result is that increasing recreational fishing demand is now meeting dwindling supply opportunities.

“The transportation industry, power and other commercial interests are active, of course, in advancing their agendas. We need to get the recreational component represented.”

That might be possible, too, with the potent revelations that Thomas Wells amassed while writing a dissertation for Bryan entitled, “Policy Implications of Aging and Manipulated River systems--- Case Study: Black Warrior River.” Arguably, his work is among the first to document just how severe losses are for recreation and fisheries because of siltation in our Corps-managed rivers.

“Thomas did a thorough job of researching the issues and documenting the extent of backwater losses on the stretch of the Black Warrior River between Tuscaloosa and Demopolis,” Bryan said. “But this is indeed a problem for many, if not most, river systems in the United States.”

On a 79-mile stretch of the Black Warrior that problem is quantified by the fact that open and marginally open entrances decreased from 251 to 119 from 1965 to 2006.  Open and marginally open off-channel areas decreased by 1,225 acres--- or 26 percent.  Additionally, 643 acres simply dried up, while the average and median size of off-channel areas declined 30 and 53 percent respectively.

“In fishing terms, I have fewer fishing holes to pick from and the ones that do remain are overall smaller than in the past,” said Wells, who used aerial photography, GPS technology and on-site inspections to compile his evidence.

Dams were built in 1955 and 1962 on this portion of the river, he explained, adding that siltation had closed just three off-channel entrances by 1965. Acceleration of loss since then, he said, highlights the severity of the problem.

Harris, meanwhile, watched the quality of the bass fishery decline concurrent with the loss of valuable backwater spawning and nursery habitat in the years after the dams were built.

“You used to catch 5- to 8-pound bass consistently,” he said. “Now, I can’t tell you the last time that I saw an 8-pound fish. Most of the backwaters that produced those fish, you can’t get into anymore.”

The Alabama fisherman said that numbers have declined as well, and he pointed out that just two 5-pound bass were caught in a recent tournament with 100 boats.

“When the dams were first put up, we had great fishing for years,” he remembered. “But as the creeks filled up, the fish couldn’t get back in there to spawn, and the fishery has gone down from there.”

Sediment pours into Black Warrior from Mill Creek following rain. Photo from Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Why has the Corps allowed this to happen? The answer to that lies more in Washington, D.C., than at Demopolis or other management offices on the rivers.

“No one foresaw the need to dredge for recreation,” an assistant site manager told B.A.S.S. Times. He added that districts have dredging policies for small boat access, but rarely have the money to clean out those areas. That’s because such work is not a line item in the budget, while main-channel navigation and hydropower are.

“We have a list always ready to go in case we do get funding,” he added.

Fisheries chief Stan Cook said that the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has worked with the Corps to identify areas “and to urge them to clean silt from inlets on a regular basis.

“During the early 2000s, some of the work was accomplished,” he said. “However, since then very little has been done to my knowledge.

“In years past, the Corps maintained the position that they need inlet dredge funding approved as a line time in their budget and those budget requests have not been approved.”

From the Corps Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., Doug Garman described the agency’s dredging policy and emphasized the value of its coastal and inland commercial navigation system:

“All USACE projects have congressionally authorized purposes (may include navigation, recreation, water supply, flood risk management, environment, hydropower), and USACE operates and maintains those projects within the funding provided to perform within authorized purposes.

“USACE navigation program is responsible for providing safe, reliable, highly cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable waterborne transportation systems for the movement of commercial goods and for national security needs. USACE navigation program is vital to the nation's economic prosperity and is responsible for moving over 2.3 billion tons of cargo valued at over $1.6 trillion.”

But the recreation component of these river systems is just as important, Wells and Bryan insist, and the Corps’ reluctance to maintain backwater areas threatens economic prosperity fueled by outdoor recreation.

According to Wells’ research, 372 million visits were made to Corps impoundments during 2006, with $8.1 billion spent within a 30-mile radius of those systems.

“With a multiplier effect, visitor trip spending accounted for an additional $7.8 billion and $3.9 billion in value added (wages and salaries, payroll benefits, etc.) Additionally, 104,811 jobs in local communities were supported by USACE lakes.”

Additionally, Bryan believes that the Corps is legally obligated to maintain access to side channels and backwaters. “An Alabama Law School professor is currently examining the legal issues surrounding lateral connectivity issues,” he said, adding that state water laws are important considerations as well.

“We believe that it is paramount to push for partnerships among state fish and game departments, recreational angling interests, and federal agencies to address backwater access issues.

“The Corps of Engineers has responded to barge and other transportation interests for main-channel dredging, but recreational anglers and others who use--- and have paid for--- the backwaters have been left out of the equation.”

How It Happens

What causes side channels and creek mouths to fill with sediment in river systems that have been channelized and fitted with locks and dams?

“One of the worst cases I have personally seen is the Tombigee River above Dempolis, Ala., all the way to its connection to the Tennessee River system,” said Hobson Bryan.

“I fished a B.A.S.S. tournament there a number of years ago and found that I could get in very few of the backwaters that had been open to anglers just 10 years earlier. Of course, large yachts throwing up huge wakes on this system are the major culprits in this case.

“But it is noteworthy that the Tombigbee Waterway was justified in significant part for the creation of recreational surface acreage, acreage now largely inaccessible to the general public.”

Thomas Wells, who examined a stretch of the Black Warrior River, added that “several variables” contribute to the problem. Besides wave action from barges and large pleasure craft, some filling in occurs naturally, he said.

“The dredging process (of main channels) could be accelerating the loss too,” Wells explained. Additionally, the Corps might be depositing some of that dredge material directly into side openings already filling with silt, although Wells emphasized that uplands are used most often.

He also said that private landowners are cutting down trees to reduce access to backwaters. “I saw some of that in my research.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)