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Battle Over River Water Heats Up

Officials say the Missouri River basin is undergoing one of the worst one year droughts in its history. The low levels are setting the stage for a fight between upstream and downstream states over water.
A coalition of downstream states wants the Obama Administration to order more releases from upstream dams.

But government leaders in the upper Missouri River states, including South Dakota’s Congressional Delegation and the Governor, are petitioning President Obama to keep river water stored upstream.
Officials with the State Game Fish and Parks say drought and low reservoir levels can drastically reduce river recreation.   Doug Hofer with State Game and Fish predicts record low reservoir levels on Oahe by late summer if releases are bumped and the drought continues.
“Recreational use, camping, visitation, fishing activities during those drought periods when we had reduced numbers of places where you could get on the lake, resulted in probably a 50-percent reduction in visitation use and the associated economic benefits that come with it,” says Hofer.

This is worrisome for those like Calib Gilkerson whose Pierre based business provides guided trips and outfitting for all sorts of river recreation.  Gilkerson is concerned about the vulnerability of the deep water marina near Spring Creek on Oahe.
“There is a lot of uncertainty with whether or not there will be a spot next summer or the summer after for us to keep our vessels that need to have a dock. You know, they need to stay in the water.   They need to have a marina,” says Gilkerson   
But Gilkerson adds that there may also be business opportunities in this crisis. He notes that kayaking and the scuba diving may get better below the dams if higher releases occur.   He says regardless of what comes it’s important for business leaders to remain positive about river recreation.