Endangered shorebirds and fish will just have to wait for habitat-enhancing spring floods and summer ebbs on the Missouri River. Because of prolonged drought, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided in early October to postpone changes in how the river and its many dams are managed.

The changes were recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mimic natural conditions and help endangered species that include the least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon (HCN, 10/8/01: Coho salmon lose federal protection). The agency wants spring floods released every third year, on average, from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., and low summer flows to occur every year to create sandbars and shallow pool habitat.

"The only place you find the endangered species," explains Chad Smith of the conservation group American Rivers, "is in stretches of river that have some semblance of a natural appearance."

But the Army Corps says that with the drought, there isn't enough water for every need, and it will continue to manage the river to benefit barge navigation and floodplain farming on the lower Missouri through next summer.

Smith calls the Corps' decision against lower summer flows unjustified. "The river is not really seen as an asset," he says, "but something to be manipulated to grow corn and move corn."