This week, Missouri River governors solidified their goal of taking a more active role in managing flows in the river system.
For the second time in two months, the governors met in Omaha, once again in a private session with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials with whom they reviewed the historic flooding this spring and summer and looked ahead to the 2012 season. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who hosted the governors, said the governor's agree that flood control needs to be the Corps' No. 1 priority.
The governors held a press conference following their private meeting.
The one exception to the apparent cooperation on river goals among the governors is Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who didn't attend the Oct. 17 meeting or the earlier one in August. He joined the private session via phone and criticized the idea that flood control must be the No. priority for river management. If that becomes the main mission, he said, reservoirs in Montana would be lowered in drought years.
How the Corps plans to operate the river system in 2012 remains key. Soils in the upper Missouri River states remain saturated and forecasts are for above-average precipitation in Montana, creating fears of renewed flooding next spring.
Corps officials are set to release a draft plan for operating the river system in a few days.
At the private meeting, Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota proposed that the Corps lower Lake Sakakawea behind Garrison Dam in North Dakota by 2-1/2 feet as a way to prepare for the potential of another year of heavy precipitation. The idea is to make more room to capture spring runoff.
Present at the meeting and a press conference were Heineman and Dalrymple, plus Govs. Terry Brandstad, Iowa; Sam Brownback, Kansas; and Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who attended the first meeting in August, participated via phone.
The Corps has ultimate responsibility for managing the reservoirs.
However, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has sponsored a bill in Congress to require the federal agency to increase storage space in the system reservoirs to help prevent severe flooding.