GLENWOOD — Four U.S. senators held a hearing in Glenwood Wednesday morning seeking an explanation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about their response to the massive flooding in the Midwest this year and what can be done to prevent — at least mitigate — future disasters.
Republican U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa were joined by Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas in questioning John Remus, chief of the Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, and Army Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the Corps’ deputy commanding general of civil and emergency operations.
Ernst said devastating floods should not happen so regularly. The 2011 Missouri River flood was frequently brought up and compared to this year’s flooding, which is already estimated to have caused more than $3 billion in damages.
“The trend of flood and rebuild, flood and rebuild must end,” Ernst said.
Gillibrand said the Corps should be more aggressive in preventing flood damage and consider the effects of climate change, but is hindered by funding and bureaucracy.
“They are too slow, too bureaucratic,” she said.
Remus said the agency works to balance all the uses of the river and maximize the benefit to several when possible, while flood control remains the top concern anytime flooding is imminent along the Missouri River.
“The number one priority of the Corps in its operations is life and public safety,” Remus said.
The flooding this year was compounded by rain, melting snow and high amounts of water that needed to be released from reservoirs along the river system, Remus added.
Remus and Spellmon both agreed nothing could have been done to prevent the disaster given the system’s current capacities.
Following the hearing, several local officials and residents offered their accounts of the flooding.
Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain, farmer and community advocate Leo Ettleman from Fremont County, Doniphan County, Kansas, attorney Joel Euler and Coalition to Protect the Missouri River Executive Director Blake Hurst testified about the failures they saw in the system.
Ettleman said the Corps should have made significant changes to its operating manual after the historic 2011 floods, but neither the Corps nor Congress took action. He said the kind of flooding the area saw this spring will continue unless changes are made.
“In the past eight years, Congress has done little or nothing except to offer prayers and thoughts, which are appreciated, but won’t fix the problem,” said Ettleman, who farms near Percival, and joined a lawsuit against the Corps after the 2011 flood.
Hurst farms near the Missouri River. He said the lessons from this year’s flooding should lead to changes about where levees are built and how the river is managed.
“When flood recovery is complete, we will have failed if every structure is the same as it was and if the management of the river has not changed,” Hurst said. “To do the same things and expect better results is the triumph of hope over experience.”
— This report includes material from the Associated Press.