Attorney General Knudsen calls on Army Corps of Engineers to delay Fort Peck dam flow rate cut

Attorney General Knudsen calls on Army Corps of Engineers to delay Fort Peck dam flow rate cut

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Knudsen called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to postpone for a month its hasty decision to cut in half the flow rates out of Fort Peck Dam and protect the northeast Montana sugar beet harvest.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Colonel Mark Himes, USACE Commander and Engineer for the Omaha District, Attorney General Knudsen explained how the USACE’s decision to cut flow rates from 8,000 cubic feet per second to 4,000 cubic feet per second by September 17 comes at a terrible time for sugar beet production in northeast Montana and for American consumers.

“If USACE moves forward with this decision, it will detrimentally impact sugar beet farmers who rely on the Missouri River to irrigate their crops and will harm the rural communities that depend on this agricultural commodity,” Attorney General Knudsen wrote. “At a time when American consumers are already facing runaway inflation, the USACE’s decision to dry out one of Montana’s largest agricultural products will require Americans to pay even higher prices at the grocery store or force American food manufactures to consider importing sugar beets from places like Russia. Neither option is acceptable.”

Sugar beets require substantial amounts of water at this stage of development, and by cutting off farmers’ access to irrigation now, USACE threatens the crop’s success after Montana farmers have spent the season carefully planting, irrigating and maintaining their fields. The beet harvest in northeast Montana typically starts at the end of September or beginning of October and can continue into November or later depending on weather and conditions.

As of September 13, Fort Peck Lake’s water elevation sat at 2,220.5 feet. While this is 2.3 feet below USACE’s target level, USACE still maintains that any water above 2,160 feet is designated for “multiple use.” With 60 feet of water still available for use, the USACE’s rushed decision to raise lake levels before sugar beet harvest seems particularly inappropriate.

If the USACE will not accommodate the request for a one-month postponement, Attorney General Knudsen called on it to host a public meeting to give stakeholders the ability to express their concerns with the planned flowrate reductions: “At the very least, USACE should host an evening meeting to hear from affected stakeholders before implementing this rushed and potentially harmful decision.”

Click here to view the letter.

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