A Mandate to Save the Meramec

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

for professionals trying to protect our natural resources from detrimental environmental impacts. The passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act and other new laws addressed the concerns of the people. Our challenge was to figure out how to effectively use these tools.

Despite a national trend toward a more environmentally conscious society, the Missouri delegation in Congress in 1974 and the Army Corps of Engineers still supported building the dam on the Meramec, as well as four more dams on other streams in the basin. Our daunting task under the new federal mandates was to educate federal decision makers of the merits or impacts of each individual project based on scientific evidence of cause-and-effect consequences to fish and wildlife.

Regarding the Meramec River, creating the proposed 23,000-acre flood control lake where one never existed before, and the resulting conversion of miles of free flowing Ozark streams to flat water, indicated there would be significant gains and losses.

Naturally, this issue spawned the question of whether the good outweighed the bad. People in the region that would be affected had to ask themselves what they really wanted. Project advocates, who were primarily interested in advancing their cause, had ready answers to these questions.

NEPA, however, spawned deeper, more specific and more pointed questions. Furthermore, it demanded science based answers to questions stemming from concern for the tradeoffs to both natural habitats and human society. In short, it changed the definitions of desirable and undesirable, as well as the definitions of good and bad.

As a young professional with Missouri Department of Conservation, I had the good fortune of working with the leaders in the emerging science of assessing environmental impacts to wildlife habitat. In the fall of 1974, we applied our tested methodologies to the affected habitats in the Upper Meramec Valley. Results confirmed that habitat losses would be substantial and devastating.

Hours of work culminated in a federal report published in March 1976 that told the whole story: The 34,000 acres directly affected by the project would destroy or degrade 109 miles of unique clear-water stream habitat, and more than 38,000 acres of valuable terrestrial habitat. Large numbers of caves and springs would be inundated.

Secondary adverse impacts would also result from induced development on about 125,000 acres surrounding the project, and on some 39,710 acres downstream.

These figures, and the 37 pages of text

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