Communities along the Missouri River and its tributaries are holding their collective breaths as officials warn of the possibility of additional flooding during the coming weeks and months.
Experts say the key to added flooding is the risk of a rainier-than-normal spring. While global warming remains a controversial subject, records show there has been a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in heavy rains in the northern Great Plains and Midwest since 1958.
“We don’t expect widespread, long-term flooding, per se, but episodic, moderate-level flooding is likely in southern Iowa, southeast Nebraska and across Missouri … through the next three months,” Doug Kluck, climate services director for the central region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Omaha World Herald last week.
Elected officials in Midwestern states bordering the Missouri River as well as our elected officials in Congress are, as they did following the massive flooding of 2011, looking for answers. Flooding and frustration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management of the Missouri River were a major topic of discussion at last Saturday’s Legislative Coffee in Council Bluffs.
At the heart of the issue is the host of interests the corps must address in managing the Missouri River, and flood control is but one item on the laundry list. That list also includes navigation, hydro power, irrigation, water supply, water quality, recreation and protection of endangered species.
“The corps does have a difficult job on juggling all that — I will admit that,” Sen. Joni Ernst told The World Herald. “But we have to hash through this because we are the ones that are getting dumped on every time something like this happens. It’s not the folks further upstream that are suffering. It’s all of us on the tail end. So we need to sit down again and start talking through and come up with different ideas.”
Iowa’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, has argued for years that flood control should be a higher priority for the corps.
In the wake of this spring’s flooding, Grassley has been critical of the corps for not allowing the city of Hamburg to keep a temporary levee that was built to protect the city during the flooding in 2011.
The corps forced removal of the levee at Hamburg’s expense because the law requires temporary measures be either upgraded to federal standards or removed.
Upgrading levees to federal specifications is not only expensive but requires corps approval before the work can be completed. Congress, however, has been lax in providing funds needed to speed up the corps’ permitting of those projects.
While there is relatively widespread agreement that this spring’s flooding — like that which occurred in 2011 — was the result of an unusual combination of climatic conditions over which the corps had relatively little control, there is, in our opinion, equally little doubt that steps must be taken to heighten flood control as a corps priority.
Congress as a whole, not just those representing impacted areas, needs to work to shift the primary responsibility for the Corps of Engineers in the Missouri River watershed to flood control.
Failure to do so is costing taxpayers billions of dollars in damages, lost productivity and revenue for Heartland farmers and businesses ... and lost lives.