North Dakota governor suggests Missouri River compact to manage flooding

Thursday, August 4, 2011 | 11:29 a.m. CDT

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota's governor said he thinks Missouri River states might collectively do a better job of managing flooding along the river than the Army Corps of Engineers, though it would require a change in the law before states could override the corps' authority.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Wednesday said he plans to broach the idea of a compact to his peers at an Aug. 19 meeting in Omaha, Neb., with other governors in the basin.

Flooding has impacted Missouri River states from Montana to Missouri this summer after heavy spring snowmelt and rain. Releases from some dams on reservoirs in the upper Midwest have been at record levels. Corps officials have defended the way they have managed the river, saying no one could have anticipated the huge amount of water that resulted from record rains upstream in May. Brig. Gen. John McMahon said late last month that lessons from the extraordinary year will be applied in the future.

Dalrymple said other river systems are managed by agreements among states and such an arrangement might balance competing interests of upstream Missouri River states, which want more water for recreation, and those downstream, which value the river for barge traffic.

His spokesman, Jeff Zent, told The Bismarck Tribune that such a compact likely would require a change in federal law to override the corps' authority over river management, and Dalrymple said forming a compact would take time and would not be easy.

"But it is hard to imagine that it can be worse, really, than what we have today, which is life by a (corps) master manual that nobody seems to be really happy with, and this constant feeling that the management decisions that are being made are mysterious and very obscure," he told North Dakota Public Radio.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad earlier urged governors in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska to discuss forming a new group of downstream states to promote their interests. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he believes all Missouri River states can find a way to work together on river issues.

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