Corps: Don't get complacent - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 6:42 pm
Corps: Don't get complacent

:PIERRE, S.D. -- The governor and the general agreed: The dry winter of 2012 is no excuse to forget lessons learned from the Missouri River flood of 2011.

"We can't get complacent here," said Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Northwest Division.

"The further we get away from the flood ... the less willingness there is to remember how bad it was," said South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. "So, to the extent you figure out what do and what it costs, it's easier ... when memories are fresh."

McMahon and Col. Bob Ruch, the Omaha District commander, met Thursday with Daugaard in South Dakota's State Capitol to update him on the status of the corps' post-flood damage studies and dam and structure repairs.

McMahon and Ruch are leading a delegation of engineers and others touring the river's six big dams from Montana to Nebraska this week as the corps moves on from completed critical levee and dam repairs to launching an estimated $186.3 million in continued work.

Among those projects are repairs on dam spillway gates and concrete floors of the spillways, embankment repairs and repairs to recreational boat ramps and roads.

As he has done in the past, Daugaard pressed McMahon and Ruch to develop a more comprehensive method of determining the amount of snow in the northern Plains and its likely impact on spring runoff into the reservoir system and, eventually, downstream past Omaha and beyond.

The corps is studying a more extensive and coordinated snowpack monitoring system. Doing a better job measuring the impact of snowpack on the Plains is one of the recommendations of an expert panel that studied this summer's flood. The current system, handled now and paid for by several state and federal agencies, runs the gamut from volunteers to federal engineers.

"Coming out of this flood, we're getting a lot better data that we all need to share," Ruch said.

In a later interview, Daugaard — who has said there was little the corps could've done to prevent last year's flooding — said it's important to recognize that there are shortcomings in the nation's ability to predict runoff from Plains snowpack.

"To the extent that we can't really predict how much water's going to come down the river until it's coming down — that's a little bit late," he said.

Like other Missouri River states, South Dakota suffered tens of millions of dollars in damage — if not hundreds of millions — in last year's flooding caused by unprecedented mountain and plains runoff.

More than 650 South Dakota homeowners reported damage. More than 100 homes sustained major damage, and seven were destroyed. More than 1,750 people registered for federal assistance.

Daugaard said the flood gave him a better appreciation of the corps' congressionally mandated mission to manage the river for multiple purposes across a basin from Montana to Missouri.

McMahon said the corps has a tough challenge to explain how the reservoir system works, its limitations and its dependency on appropriations from Congress.

"We need to do a much better job," he said.

He said there's always more the corps can do to educate people about the river and its string of reservoirs — and the importance of buying flood insurance.

"I hope one lesson people learned is that flood insurance is a good investment and that people are not overly comforted by the mild winter," he said. "There are many aspects to this that we can't lose sight of even though the pressure's off."

Contact the writer:

402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

Contact the writer: David Hendee

david.hendee@owh.com    |   402-444-1127

David covers a variety of news across Nebraska, particularly natural resources and rural issues and the State Game and Parks Commission.

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