Bipartisan Missouri River Working Group Calls on Corps to Outline Preparations for Possible Flooding Next Year

WASHINGTON – Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), along with the delegations of the Missouri River Basin states, called on the Army Corps of Engineers today to apply lessons from this year’s flooding as it prepares next year’s operating plan for the Missouri River. The Missouri River Working Group is a bipartisan, cooperative coalition of lawmakers organized last month by Sens. Hoeven, Conrad, Blunt and McCaskill to improve flood control along the Missouri River and address flood impacts on local communities. 

          In a letter to Maj. Gen. William T. Grisoli, Deputy Commanding General, and Brig. Gen. John McMahon, Commander of the Northwest Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, the group asked what authority the Corps has to make changes to the Master Manual and annual operating plan for the Missouri River, what additional authority it might need, how it will determine what changes should be made to river management, and how it is evaluating changes necessary to reduce the risk of flooding next year. 

The group also asked the Corps how it will use National Weather Service data for the rest of this year and next, and how it will improve communications with the public and government officials on reservoir conditions, its operating decisions and potential flood risk. The senators requested a plan and timeline for federal assistance in repairing damage to levees and other flood control measures damaged by this year’s floods and what the agency plans for investments in federal infrastructure to reduce flood damage in the near-term. 

          The group wrote: “Based on our discussions, we understand the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has authority to make one-year adjustments to the Missouri River Master Water Control Manual as part of the system’s annual operating plan and that your after action review of this year’s flood event will form the basis for any adjustments to the 2012 operating plan.  We believe it is critical that the lessons learned from this year’s event be factored into next year’s plan and that appropriate mechanisms be incorporated to allow for deviation from that plan should circumstances dictate.” 

In June, Hoeven, Conrad, Blunt and McCaskill sent a letter to their Senate colleagues to seek support for the working group’s efforts. “This year has created huge challenges for the communities along the river. Historic rainfall totals have combined with high levels of snowmelt to place enormous stress on the Missouri’s great reservoirs,” the senators said. “Improving flood control will require cooperation from one end of the Missouri River to the other.” 

This spring, the Corps released record levels of water down the river resulting in heavy flooding, and continued high releases are expected throughout the summer. The group is working to ensure that the Corps can adequately fight current flooding throughout the river basin. It is also working to assess the factors that led to this year’s extensive flooding and develop concrete strategies for improving controls to prevent similar flood incidents in the future. 

In addition to Senators Hoeven, Conrad, Blunt and McCaskill, members of the Missouri River Working Group include the congressional delegations of Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.