Governors of seven of the eight states in the Missouri River basin, along with Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, met on August 19 to discuss their concerns about the flooding crisis this year and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' management of the river.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was unable to attend the meeting in Omaha but sent Reynolds in his place. The seven governors, joined by Reynolds, pounded home the point that flood control should be the top priority for the Corps of Engineers as it manages the dams and reservoirs on the river.
"I think the representatives of the Corps of Engineers heard a loud and clear message from us today that flood control is the first and the most important priority," said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who organized the August 19 meeting. "The Army Corps of Engineers just must do a much better job of managing the river in the future."
Governors realize they need to take a unified stand on river issue
The meeting of the state leaders was called to find ways to prevent a repeat of the flooding along the Missouri River during 2011 that has inundated fields, washed out roads and devastated communities in Iowa and neighboring states. Along with Reynolds and Heineman, the governors of Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming participated. Reynolds attended because Iowa Gov. Branstad was attending the funeral of an Iowa soldier.
In a letter to John McHugh, secretary of the U.S. Army, the state leaders said they are united in calling for a priority on flood control. In the past, disagreements among states along the river have emerged, especially between those in the upper and lower sections of the Missouri River basin.
Leaders from the Dakotas also pledged to keep reservoirs low enough in the coming years to contain snow melt and spring rains. States along the lower part of the river have complained in the past that the Dakotas have tried to keep the reservoirs too high to boost recreational use of the reservoirs.
Corps needs to examine its management of river and develop options
Going forward, the state leaders urged the Corps to thoroughly examine the management of the Missouri River and develop alternatives to reduce flood damage when deep snowpack and heavy rains fill the reservoirs, as such weather did this year. "We also request the Corps provide recommendations for specific operational changes to afford greater flood protection in the basin in the future. The Corps needs to consult with the states and tribes in selecting and putting to work these changes," according to the letter from the governors.
Nebraska's Heineman conceded there were mitigating factors making this year's flooding worse than usual, factors such as more moisture and increased snow melt. "But, what I think we're concerned about is, to make flood control the highest priority. Is there a way we can add a safety margin, a margin of error here, for next year? That's what we're focused on."
Iowa Congressman Steve King says he will introduce legislation soon
Also, last week Iowa Congressman Steve King said he would introduce legislation soon to require the Corps of Engineers to revise the Missouri River manual to focus on flood control.
"The Corps needs to make this year's flooding their new baseline in the Master Manual so that future flood management efforts will do a much better job of protecting the homes, property and businesses of residents who live in close proximity to the Missouri River," King said.