With a second year of drought likely, the U-S Army Corps of Engineers will soon be starting work on sandbars in the very low Missouri River. Ruth Bentzinger, an environmental resource specialist with the Corps’ Omaha office, says they won’t be building any new sandbars this year as habitat for two types of endangered birds. “We’re looking at vegetation removal and control methods and not on all of the sandbars,” Bentzinger says. “We have a sandbar selection where we look at what sandbars have been created on the system and see which ones would be preferable, suitable in the way of habitat for the least tern and the piping plover.”
The Corps is assembling a plan that will dictate sandbar and habitat work on the river for 2013 through 2017. The sandbars are evaluated frequently. “Every year they’re going to change, some of them are going to accrete, some of them are going to erode,” Bentzinger says. “Some that we look at now as being suitable habitat may not be used by the birds. Every year, we’ll collect data to see where they’re nesting.”
After the floods of 2011 receded, many sandbars were left behind in the river channel. Bentzinger says they want to work on more than bird habitat. “We’re going to keep as much as we possibly can, but at the same time, we also have a cottonwood that is regenerating on some of the sandbars,” Bentzinger says. “Cottonwoods are needed, especially in the Upper Missouri River there. The more mature trees, as they start dying off, we’re not replacing them as fast as we’re losing them.”
The past two years have been challenging. Record flooding on the Missouri in 2011 caused hundreds of millions of dollars damage to homes, businesses, farmland and infrastructure in eastern Nebraska, western Iowa and northwest Missouri. Last year, river levels were at near-record lows due to the prolonged drought.