Iowa Public Television

 

Corps Changing Missouri River Plan After Flooding

posted on November 10, 2011


     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

flooding downstream.

     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

morning."

     "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

devastating flooding."

     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,"

he said.

     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.


Tags: agriculture flooding Missouri River