In the aftermath of historic flooding this summer, governors from North Dakota to Missouri said they plan to take a more active role in managing the Missouri River.
“We've all been hurt by the Missouri River,” North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Monday in Omaha.
The governors waded into the issue by proposing that the Army Corps of Engineers lower Lake Sakakawea behind Garrison Dam in North Dakota by 2.5 feet this fall in preparation for the possibility of another year of heavy precipitation.
Dalrymple said lowering the reservoir more than usual this fall would make more room for water during spring runoff.
“Would it prevent something like that happened this year? Of course not,” Dalrymple said, adding that it would be a significant small step.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman hosted Dalrymple and Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota at a private meeting with Army Corps of Engineers at the Gallup campus on the riverfront. They discussed this year's devastating flooding, levee and highway repairs, and the corps' plans for operating the river in 2012.
“The No. 1 priority that we're all concerned about is flood control,” Heineman said afterward. “For most governors now, our concern is about next year.”
The corps, which under congressional authority manages the 2,341-mile-long river and six reservoirs, has been criticized by some for the unprecedented flooding that swept out of Montana and the Dakotas after historic volumes of rainfall in the northern Plains overwhelmed reservoirs.
High water swept across the floodplains of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.
Corps Gen. John McMahon and Col. Robert Ruch met with the governors.
The corps plans to publicly unveil its draft plan for operating the river system next year at a series of public meetings beginning Oct. 24 in Omaha. The current plan calls for no changes in how much capacity the corps will reserve in the reservoirs for flood control next year.
Dalrymple said the corps indicated that it would consider his plan.
The corps itself may develop alternative plans for managing the river this year, said Monique Farmer, a corps spokeswoman.
Dalrymple's plan faces a hurdle, she said.
“The system must be managed as a system,” Farmer said.
That means the downstream impact of upstream decisions must be accounted for, she said.
Lowering Lake Sakakawea an additional 2.5 feet would create 750,000 acre-feet of additional water storage capacity, without causing downstream damage this fall.
He said the additional capacity could be achieved by increasing Garrison Dam releases by 10,000 cubic feet per second for 38 days. Garrison was discharging 26,000 cfs on Monday.
The governors also signed a letter to Congress, stating they were committed to having more direct involvement in managing the river system.
Branstad said the issue of governors taking a more direct role is delicate because the corps is ultimately in charge. He also said he supports a bill by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to require the corps to permanently lower its reservoirs to accommodate possible future flooding.
But the governors don't want to wait on the sidelines.
“We're not all that confident that Congress is going to act,” Branstad said.
Brownback said river levees are weakened by months of holding back floodwater.
“This is a situation where inches matter,” he said in support of Dalrymple's plan.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer participated in the meeting via phone.
Schweitzer fought the notion that flood control for downstream states should dominate how the reservoirs are managed upstream. He said such a plan would lead to empty reservoirs, which are relied upon upstream for recreation, wildlife and agriculture.
Schweitzer allowed reporters into his office for what was to be a private meeting. He and Heineman clashed several times.
“If you showed up here, you can bring all the damned data with you,” Heineman told Schweitzer, who countered that he would not attend a meeting where reporters were banned.
Heineman said Schweitzer was “just looking for a fight and just making some noise.”
Heineman said the states need to do something, “even on the margins, to make a difference next year.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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