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From where the Yellowstone River flows out of Yellowstone National Park, all along its pathway to the Missouri River in North Dakota, home construction and rigid flow control structures impact the 670-mile length of the river. 40% of the river between Laurel and Billings is now lined with riprap A suit filed in Federal Court asked the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately halt the issuing of permits for the construction of ripraps, dikes, barbs and jetties that constrict the Yellowstone River, resulting in a single, armored channel that flows with increased, destructive velocity, accelerates downstream bank erosion and causes damage to downstream neighbors.
The river must be allowed to use its floodplain to create and sustain its wetlands for breeding habitats of plants, birds, fish and other animals. If the river is not constricted by man-made structures and allowed to utilize its natural floodplain, it will help to dissipate stream velocity and reduce its erosive power during flood conditions by creating wide meanders within the floodplain and storing flood waters, lessening downstream impacts. A study of the entire river for cumulative effects is needed.
Also, there are six diversion structures spanning the river to divert water for irrigation, preventing fish like the sturgeon, paddlefish, sauger and sickelfin chub from migrating to spawning areas. At their intakes diversion dams suck 500,000 to a million fish a year into destruction. Certainly we could design diversion structures that would be less destructive!
The USFWS and the EPA recommendations are usually ignored by the Corps. The cumulative impacts of their numerous permits for channel changing structures are usually not considered. As developers buy river frontage property, values rise and landowners are less tolerant of the rivers natural movements and flooding. However, no single action exists in isolation. Downstream users count on the wisdom and care of upstream users. Recently, the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company applied to install 8-foot long, 5-foot high triangular concrete blocks, end to end, to form a 272-foot long dam across the west channel of the Yellowstone River to divert cooling water to the Corvette power plant. The applications were rejected and other, less destructive alternatives have been installed.
There is still opportunity for corrective action that will protect this great river that still runs free. The key is conserving the rivers natural values. We can take action to protect and enhance its fisheries, wildlife, cottonwood groves and agriculture by enhancing natural riparian, flood plain processes on which they depend. We must limit development within the floodplain to ensure that future generations will enjoy the unique experiences and economic benefit that a healthy riverine environment provides. An unfettered, free-flowing Yellowstone will be increasingly valuable to Montana. Sprawling homes with their sewage and rock structures controlling the flow of the stream can choke the life out of the river.
The Yellowstone River has no dams to halt its rushing water, although much blood was shed fighting against the Corps of Engineers Allen Spur Dam, a 660 foot high concrete arch dam 3 1/2 miles above Livingston, that would have backed water to the Yellowstone Park Boundary above Gardiner. We can thank Jim Posewitz et al. for defeating this illogical project and allowing the river to do what it does best: build islands for wildlife, create channels and pools for fish and deliver water to the dry prairies below. The Montana visitor would do well to follow the Yellowstone River up from its mouth at Fort Union 600 miles up to the Yellowstone Park boundary. It is one of earths wonders and a gift from nature. Also it is our responsibility to keep it safe for future generations.
Gold Mining Threatens Yellowstone River
After resisting for more than 1 1/2 year, the Park County Conservation District has given in to Gardiner resident Robert Beede, granting him a permit to explore for gold on two islands in the Yellowstone River. The District had rebuffed Beede on two previous occasions when he had sought the so-called “310” permit without providing adequate information on how the river might be affected. Prior to an April 9th public hearing, Beede warned that if the Conservation District didn’t give him a permit, “I’ll file a multi-million dollar takings lawsuit.”
Beede’s river prospecting will consist of digging four trenches -- 100 ft. long and 10-14 ft. deep -- on the islands during low water. While Beede says the islands contain between $300,000 and $900,000 in gold dust, conservation groups strongly oppose the project because it would destroy riparian vegetation, dump sediment into the river and blanket fish spawning gravels with silt.
If Beede does find substantial gold reserves, he’ll have to get additional permits from the Park County Conservation District, US Army Corps of Engineers, and MT Dept. of Environmental Quality before he can proceed with full-scale mining. ~
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