OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday
it will change its approach to managing the Missouri River
following a summer of record flooding that damaged or destroyed
hundreds of homes, led to millions of dollars in road repairs and
forced communities to scramble to build temporary levees.
The corps said it will make the changes in the coming months,
including getting as much water out of the river basin's reservoir
system as possible before spring and aggressively releasing more
water in the spring, if needed.
The corps also is looking at how much more reservoir space might
be needed to ease flooding.
The changes come in response to concerns voiced by residents -
many of whom lost crops or were forced out of their homes for weeks
by the flooding - during eight public meetings recently held in
Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana and North Dakota.
"The past two weeks have been incredibly beneficial, and we
have listened intently to the people we serve," Brig. Gen. John
McMahon, the commander of the corps' northwestern division, said in
a written release. "The top priority of the Northwestern Division
Missouri is to responsibly prepare for the 2012 runoff season."
The public meetings often turned contentious, with corps
officials facing angry residents who blamed them for not doing more
to allay the flooding.
Corps officials said they had the reservoirs at desired levels
last spring, but a late buildup of snow in the Rocky Mountains and
unexpectedly heavy rains in Montana and other upstream areas in May
led to record runoff. That prompted to the corps to release massive
amounts of water from dams along the river, resulting in massive
While the corps made clear that it was making the changes to
address Missouri River basin residents' concerns, its leaders did
not give any indication they were rethinking the handling of the
river's management before the flooding. A corps spokeswoman did not
immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.
The Monday announcement was met with relief from people in the
states most affected by the flooding.
Rhonda Wiley, a county emergency management coordinator based in
Rock Port, Mo., said the corps' announcement "made my Monday
"It seems to me they have actually listened to what was brought
out at their meetings," Wiley said. "It's the first step of many
steps yet to come."
She said recovery from flooding in her county is moving slowly
and she's worried after reading predictions of higher-than-average
precipitation in the northern part of the Missouri River basin in
the coming winter and spring.
"I just hope now the corps can find the money to get in here
and get these levees built back up," she said. "What we're
looking at now, we could be doing this all over again next year."
The corps has estimated it will cost more than $2 billion to
repair the damage to the nation's levees, dams and riverbanks
caused by this year's flooding.
Kelli Shaner of rural Fort Calhoun, just north of Omaha, said
she's glad the corps is rethinking management of the river. She and
her husband lost 80 percent of their corn and soybeans to flooding
this summer and have only been able to return to their home, which
was significantly damaged, in the past two weeks.
But she doesn't blame the corps for the damage, saying she was
well aware of the potential for flooding on the land that has been
in her husband's family for five generations.
"Bottom line is, I'm very glad they're changing and looking at
the way they're doing things, because it can only get better,"
Shaner said. "Hopefully, this devastation won't happen to other
people who live along the river bottom."
Governors in flooded states welcomed the corps' news. Nebraska
Gov. Dave Heineman said the governors told the corps flood control
must be its highest priority and the agency "may be starting to
listen to the citizens affected by this year's historic and
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard lauded a segment of the corps'
plan calling for better communications with bi-monthly conference
calls looping in federal, state, county and local officials.
Daugaard said the corps waited too long last year to tell people
that conditions in February, March and April indicated there would
be a heavy spring runoff.
"While it didn't cause the flood, it certainly aggravated it,"
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad addressed the issue at his weekly news
conference Monday, saying a change in the way the corps manages the
river was needed.
The duration of the flood "was certainly determined by the
amount of water that was released from the dams upstream on the
Missouri River," Branstad said. "We intend to work with the other
governors in having a strong voice for our constituents in changing
the way the river is managed."
But the corps' plan is likely to rankle Montana Gov. Brian
Schweitzer, who has said lowering reservoir levels now could lead
to problems when drought hits. He told downstream Missouri River
states last month that he would support a new management plan only
if his state's reservoirs weren't included.
Schweitzer was out of the country Monday and unavailable for
comment on the plan.