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Iowa, Nebraska withdraw from Missouri River group

Friday, November 4, 2011 | 1:48 p.m. CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. — Iowa and Nebraska are withdrawing from an association of Missouri River states and tribes because of a dispute over how to manage the river, which flooded large parts of both states last summer.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced Friday the states would pull their membership from the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes.

A spokesman for Branstad, Tim Albrecht, said the states are withdrawing in part because of a dispute with Montana over how to manage the river and what they viewed as the group's unresponsiveness to their concerns. Iowa and Nebraska have pushed to release more water from upriver reservoirs in the spring to prevent the kind of extended flooding that occurred last summer in both those states and Missouri.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer maintains that more aggressive flood control measures would infringe on his state's wildlife and recreation industries. He and Heineman clashed during a closed meeting of governors last month.

Branstad released a statement criticizing the Missouri River association for not "actively" pursuing more aggressive flood control during the group's recent meeting.

"Moreover," he said, "there have been long-standing concerns that MoRAST's by-laws are too narrowly constrained to adequately represent the diversity of key stakeholders and multiple uses of the river."

The Iowa Farm Bureau has estimated the flooding cost to be $207 million in lost crop sales and related economic activity. Branstad said it covered more than 280,000 farm acres in Iowa and severely damaged or destroyed 380 homes.

Albrecht said the state would continue to work with other agencies and governments on the problem, but going through the Missouri River association didn't seem to be the best way to do it.

Heineman said the association didn't seem to be the best way to achieve his state's goals, stating that the highest priority is protecting citizens' homes, farmers, ranchers and businesses.

The governors have said they want to avoid a repeat of summer flooding that submerged thousands of acres of farmland, forced residents from their homes and rerouted trains and motorists. Some cities, including Omaha, spent millions of dollars trying to protect airports, water treatment plants and other facilities from the rising waters.

The Army Corps of Engineers manages the more than 2,300-mile-long river, which flows from Montana through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. Its basin also includes Wyoming.

Except for Montana, the states have all said controlling flooding is their top river management priority, Heineman said in a letter to the association. They are trying to make that the corps' priority, as well.

Army Corps administrator Gen. John McMahon told the governors in October that it could cost $500 million to $1 billion to repair the levees, dams and other flood control systems damaged in this year's flooding. He said the system could be modified greatly during repairs to allow more controlled flooding as a way of preventing future breakthroughs. Congress would have to approve the money.

Emergency management coordinators in flood-stricken counties said it's important for the states to work together to prevent flooding.

"We just need them to work together in any way possible," said Woodbury County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Brown, who responded to flooding in the northwest Iowa region. "The folks over here would just like to not go through this again."

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