In the Spotlight

The New Madrid Levee Project is a proposal by the Corps of Engineers to build a new 60 foot high, quarter mile long levee and two huge pumping plants along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri. The Corps wants to spend $165 million taxpayer dollars on this project to promote intensified use of the New Madrid Floodway, an area that provides vital fish and wildlife habitat and flood protection

The New Madrid Floodway is an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem, and provides vital fish and wildlife habitat. The area is particularly important because it is the last place where the Mississippi River connects to its backwater floodplain in the state of Missouri. The river and floodplain connection allows the regular exchange of water, nutrients, and energy that is the ecological driver of this vital area.

The New Madrid Levee would sever this vital river-floodplain connection with devastating impacts. It would drain more than 53,000 acres of wetlands – an area of wetlands larger than the District of Columbia – and eliminate the most important backwater fisheries habitat in the Middle Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes the Project because it “would cause substantial, irretrievable losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife resources, and greatly diminish rare and unique habitats found in southeast Missouri.”

The New Madrid Floodway also provides critical flood protection. During extreme floods, water is diverted into the Floodway’s 130,000 acres protecting dozens of river communities in Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. It has always been a challenge to operate the Floodway in a timely manner, and increasing use of the Floodway will make it even harder to do so. In 2011, Missouri sued to stop use of the Floodway and the resulting delay led to catastrophic flooding in Olive Branch, Illinois where 50 homes were destroyed. After the Floodway was activated in 2011, water levels at Cairo Illinois dropped 2.7 feet in just 48 hours.

The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority – and the responsibility – to stop the New Madrid Levee Project under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. This provision allows EPA to veto a project that would have an unacceptable adverse effect on fish and wildlife. A Clean Water Act veto would stop this project once and for all.

Many Water Protection Network members are working together to stop this project.  Ninety conservation organizations; dozens of community leaders from Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky; Senator Dick Durbin; and more than 20,000 members of the public have already called for an EPA veto.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls the project “a horrible idea” that should be stopped by EPA.

UPDATE: Your hard work has paid off and the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project has been stopped! Take a look at the key documents and petition that helped drive this boondoggle project into the ground:

Resolution Letter on St. John Bayou and New Madrid Project, DOI to CEQ, January 2017>>

National Wildlife Federation Comment Letter on the CEQ Referral of the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project, December 2016>>

Petition Cover Letter to CEQ Urging this Administration to Stop the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project, December 2016>>

Petition Cover Letter to EPA Urging this Administration to Stop the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project, December 2016>>

Why Veto? Check out this quick Fact Sheet>>

Leaders, Groups, and Editorials Supporting the Veto >>

View Map of St. Johns Bayou Basin and New Madrid Floodway Project Area >>

See what others are saying: Media Coverage and Blogs

The Apalachicola River is one of the most productive river systems in North America and is the biological factory that fuels the Apalachicola Bay and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  Commercial and recreational fishing in the Apalachicola River and Bay contribute almost $400 million to the local economy each year and directly support up to 85 percent of the local population.

Despite its enormous ecological value, the Apalachicola River has been severely degraded by the construction and operation of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) System of federal dams and reservoirs and a long history of federal navigational dredging.  Among many other problems, the Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of the ACF System has starved the Apalachicola of the freshwater flows needed to sustain a healthy and vibrant river, floodplain, and bay.

Florida’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection recently told Congress that “the ecosystem and, indeed, the very way of life for generations of Floridians will be devastated” if we do not restore historic flow patterns to the Apalachicola River.

In 2005, Network members successfully stopped navigation dredging on the Apalachicola River.  We are now working to ensure that the Apalachicola River and Bay will receive the freshwater flows they need to support, restore, and reestablish a thriving ecosystem, healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and a vibrant resource-based economy.

Senator Nelson Comments on the Apalachicola Chattahoochee Flint Final River Basin EIS, February 2017>>

Conservation Organizations Comment on the Apalachicola Chattahoochee Flint River Basin Final EIS, February 2017 >>

Legislation has been introduced to require the Corps to send freshwater flows to the Apalachicola River >>

National Wildlife Federation letter calling for freshwater flows legislation >>

Read more information >> 

Member Projects in the Field


Delaware River Deepening

Despite extensive opposition from the Delaware Riverkeeper NetworkDelaware Nature Society, and other local and national groups – including litigation – the Corps is deepening over 100 miles of the Delaware River from 40 to 45 feet. The project will cause significant harm, including resuspending heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins in the River, letting saltwater move higher up into the river, and threatening the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the world and the migratory birds that rely on them.  A 2002 GAO report concluded that the Corps’ economic findings for this project were “based on miscalculations, invalid assumptions, and outdated information.”

New York

  • Montauk Point Lighthouse RevetmentThe Corps of Engineers has proposed spending $18 million to attempt to protect the Montauk Point Lighthouse by armoring the beach front with extensive stone revetment.  This would be the 6th major attempt at preventing natural beach erosion since 1946.  The Corps’ proposal would stop the natural beach erosion that supplies sand to all of Long Island’s ocean beaches. Relocating the lighthouse further from the ocean shore would save money in the long run, and provide a lasting solution that does not inhibit natural beach formation.  Renewed interest and increased funding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy threaten to move this destructive project forward.


Defeating the Duck River Dam…Again

Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA) sued the Corps on Sept. 5, 2007 to stop the construction of a dam on Alabama’s Duck River. The Corps-issued section 404 permit that ARA is challenging is a re-issuance of a flawed 2000 corps-issued permit that a federal district judge vacated based on the proposed dam’s cumulative impacts on water quality and downstream flows.


  • Grand Prairie Irrigation Demonstration ProjectAt $420 million, this Corps of Engineers irrigation “demonstration” project would draw water from the White River, lowering water levels and damaging the White River and Cache River National Wildlife Refuges, providing irrigation to a small number of heavily subsidized rice farmers at a taxpayer cost of over $480,000 per farm. Irrigation has never before been a primary purpose of Corps of Engineers projects.
    • For more information please contact David Carruth, Arkansas Wildlife Federation


Restoring Freshwater Flows to the Apalachicola River

The Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) system of federal dams and reservoirs is keeping vital freshwater flows from reaching the Apalachicola River and Bay.  Florida’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection recently told Congress that “the ecosystem and, indeed, the very way of life for generations of Floridians will be devastated” if we do not restore historic flow patterns to the Apalachicola River.  Network members are working to require the Corps to manage the ACF so that the Apalachicola River and Bay will receive the freshwater flows they need to support a thriving ecosystem, healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and a vibrant resource-based economy.


Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

The Corps is deepening a 16-mile section of the shipping channel in the Savannah Harbor from its current 42 foot depth down to 47 feet. This $706 million project will reduce the remaining tidal freshwater marsh in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge System by 50 percent, lower dissolved oxygen levels, and jeopardize the population of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon.  While aggressive efforts to stop the deepening were unsuccessful, conservation organizations represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center obtained important mitigation requirements that will help reduce the project’s long term impacts.  These include new wetlands mitigation, land preservation, and other measures, funded by $33.5 million from the Georgia Ports Authority.


Industrial Canal Lock Expansion

Despite overwhelming community opposition and the critical need to focus federal funding on restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, the Corps has resurrected planning for expanding the Industrial Canal.  The courts rejected both the Corps’ 1998 and 2009 environmental impact statements on this project, and in 2012 the Port of New Orleans announced that it would no longer act as the project’s local sponsor.  Resurrecting this study is a prime example of the Corps’ often misplaced priorities and its failure to listen to communities affected by its actions.  Network members continue their fight to stop this project.


Saving 200,000 Acres of Wetlands!

In one of the greatest water-related conservation victories of our time, the Network and its member groups led successful efforts to obtain a Clean Water Act veto of the devastating Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant.  EPA’s August 2008 veto has protected more than 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands – an area larger than all 5 boroughs of New York City – in the heart of the Mississippi River flyway.  The Network led local and national outreach efforts critical to this victory, providing crucial support to the extensive advocacy work carried out by numerous Network members on this project.


Arkansas River Channel Deepening

The Corps of Engineers’ has proposed converting 445 miles of the Arkansas River from a 9 foot to a 12 foot river channel so that Tulsa, OK can operate as an expanded seaport.  This project would cause significant harm to fish and wildlife habitat, and at best provide only meager long term benefits.  It would be a huge waste of taxpayer money.


Missouri River Restoration

Record-breaking flooding on the Missouri River in 2011 underscores the urgency to restore the River’s natural defenses to improve wildlife habitat and protect farmland and communities.  Unfortunately, Congress continues to put up roadblocks to effective implementation of the Missouri River restoration program.

Minnesota and North Dakota

Fargo Moorhead Diversion Project / Red River Diversion

The costs of this highly destructive project have skyrocketed along with the risks to communities.  The $2 billion project would create a 36 mile long river diversion and a high hazard dam for water storage upstream of the communities of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota.  The project would cause significant harm to fish and wildlife habitat, destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands, and put communities at risk to promote development in a floodplain area.  Restoring wetlands upstream that would provide natural water storage provides a better flood solution.  While Congress has not appropriated funding to this dangerous project, the local sponsor is moving forward with some project features.  However, a Federal District Court recently directed the local sponsor to stop work until the state of Minnesota issues a required permit.

For more information, contact the MnDak Upstream Coalition.

Upper Mississippi River States

Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Lock Expansions

At a cost of over $2 billion, this navigation lock expansion project on the Upper Mississippi River was discredited in 2001 when the Corps was caught manipulating economic models. A recent Corps’ economic study found only 20 cents of benefits for each taxpayer dollar that would be spent based on existing traffic trends and traffic continues to decline. This project would further impact numerous species of fish and mussels and degrade the Mississippi Flyway and 275,000 acres of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Dollars instead should be directed at restoring the river’s declining ecosystem.

Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Breaching 4 Lower Snake River Dams

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and others are working to convince the Corps to breach 4 dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State. The Corps manages these dams for power generation and barge traffic at the expense of threatened native salmon, only 1% of which can reach their native spawning grounds to reproduce. Removing the dams is the most effective way to restore native salmon and would provide a host of additional environmental benefits.