For those of us living or farming near a river, the threat of flooding always is in the back of our minds. We do our best to prepare for floods and expect the federal government to do the same.
In the last 10 years, landowners along the Missouri River have faced multiple devastating floods. Unfortunately, it’s now become apparent those floods were preventable if it weren’t for the way the river has been managed.
For years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prioritized flood control in areas along the river where there were landowners and farmers trying to make an honest living. However, bowing to pressure from environmental interests, the Corps began prioritizing fish and wildlife in the mid-2000s.
This plan was premised on the idea the river should be more natural and free-flowing so endangered species could flourish. Unfortunately, favoring endangered species came at the expense of the countless businesses, homes and acres of farmland along the river.
To add insult to injury, we have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to carry out this program while the floods it has created cost landowners along the Missouri River more than $300 million. On top of that, the program hasn’t even shown a measurable impact in helping the wildlife it aims to protect.
It has been my long-held belief that the favoring of fish and birds over people and property on the Missouri River by the Corps of Engineers has caused needless flooding. That’s why I introduced legislation to remove fish and wildlife from the Corps’ priorities. Last month, a court affirmed my belief that favoring fish and birds did indeed cause flooding.
Last week, I held a roundtable with stakeholders along the Missouri River and they agreed we need to take a hard look at the management practices on the river. Like me, they have been raising concerns about the species management practices distracting from the Corps’ main mission and asking the Corps’ staff to do things outside of their expertise.
Flood control must be our first priority, with navigation a close second. All other priorities must be balanced in a way that is most beneficial to those who utilize the river, whether for business or pleasure. However, human interests must come first.
Certainly, there is room for fish and birds on the river. It’s part of their natural habitat. However, the Corps has a limited budget and resources. Its time is spent more wisely carrying out the mission it originally was given — ensuring the risk of flooding is controlled to the extent that it can be and maintaining the navigation channel to allow goods to easily move up and down the river.
For the sake of landowners, business owners and taxpayers, I believe it is past time we halt this dangerous program that prioritizes fish and birds over people. We must remember the Missouri River, like every river, can either be a gift or a curse; how we manage it going forward will determine which we receive.
Sam Graves is in his ninth term representing Missouri’s 6th Congressional District. Graves, a Republican, is a lifelong resident of Tarkio, Missouri.