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Date published: 11/30/2012
The situation worsened last week when the Army Corps of Engineers began reducing the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam in South Dakota, where a group of experts said Thursday that the worst U.S. drought in decades had intensified over the last week.
The flow is gradually being cut by more than two-thirds by Dec. 11 as part of an effort to ease the effects of the drought in the northern Missouri River basin.
Lawmakers from Mississippi River states are frustrated with the corps' action and even requested a presidential emergency declaration to overturn it. So far, the White House has not responded.
On Thursday, Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy told Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and some of his colleagues from Iowa and Minnesota that the corps would consider cutting the amount of water held back from the Mississippi.
Darcy also pledged to expedite removal of rock formations south of St. Louis, though that work would take at least two months after a contractor is hired.
To Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, the stakes couldn't be higher.
"There is going to be a dramatic ripple effect to our economy if the barge traffic grinds to halt, which clearly it will if something is not done to avert this crisis," she said.
Her Missouri colleague in the Senate, Republican Roy Blunt, acknowledged "friction" between upper Missouri River interests that control the flow and those downstream on the lower Missouri and Mississippi rivers. He said the corps "needs to manage that balance."