COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Three Midwestern Republican governors of states ravaged by recent flooding are demanding more authority over management of the Missouri River system.
Following a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts were critical of the federal body that manages the river, saying it should prioritize flood control over other goals, such as protecting fish and wildlife habitat.
"One thing is clear: Something needs to change," said Parson, who pointed to increasing damage from flooding over the last decade with no solutions in sight.
The governors met as the Corps of Engineers reported record runoff in the upper Missouri River basin last month due to rain and rapidly melting snowpack. The Corps plans to increase water releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota to 55,000 cubic feet per second next week and maintain above-average releases, possibly into November.
This could bring more flood risk and comes as the governors said they plan to work together for that change, even if it means petitioning Congress to give states more authority in river management.
Ricketts complained that even when funding for reinforcement of levees is approved, it's often years before the work is actually done. In some cases, flooding repeats before the work even starts. "That permitting process has got to be faster," he said.
Reynolds said the governors would be presenting a united front to the federal government in demanding more authority.
"We can't continue to do things like build a temporary levee that would protect a community, and after the Corps deems the flood incident over, require them to tear it down," she said
Asked whether the Corps indicated it would or could cede some river management decisions to the states, Parson replied, "Well, they listened."
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, also was scheduled to attend but had transportation problems and did not make it.
The Corps has said it works to balance all its priorities and that much of the flooding was well out of its control. The agency said that much of the water that created the flooding came from record rains and melting snow that flowed over frozen ground and directly into the river downstream of its dams, all while massive amounts of water filled Missouri River reservoirs and had to be released.
Officials have estimated that the flooding caused nearly $1.4 billion in damage in Nebraska and more than $1.6 billion in Iowa. That includes an estimated $1 billion of damage to farms in both states, where flooding destroyed stored crops, tore up land and equipment and killed livestock. Thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed in Nebraska alone. The damage total is expected to grow as more assessments are made.