WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and congressional witnesses Wednesday criticized the response of the Army Corps of Engineers to this year's devastating flooding along the Missouri River and said they were concerned existing problems won't be corrected.
At a House subcommittee hearing reviewing the response to flooding along the Missouri River, lawmakers and witnesses recounted record flooding earlier this year that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, led to millions of dollars in road repairs and prompted communities to build temporary levees. The corps announced earlier in November that it would change how it manages the more than 2,300-mile river in response to the flooding.
Rep. Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat, called the flooding "an event that requires us to change our policies."
Rep. Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican, said she believes the corps is at least partly to blame for the severity of the flooding.
"While it is likely that some amount of flooding could not be avoided ... surely something could have been done differently that would have avoided releases that were double and nearly triple previous record releases," Noem said. "From the information I have seen, I believe the Corps of Engineers carries some responsibility for this disaster."
Changes the corps plans to make include getting as much water out of the river basin's reservoir system as possible before spring and, if necessary, aggressively releasing more water in the spring.
Brigadier Gen. John McMahon, speaking on behalf of the corps, said he understood the impact of the flooding and said the agency would continue to examine its policies. He also said the actions of the corps as well as the dams in place along the Missouri River spared communities from even greater damage.
But witnesses such as Missouri farmer Richard Oswald said the corps did not communicate with local communities and said much is needed to be done to prevent another similar situation.
"We were told well ahead of time to expect a flood," Oswald said. "The reaction among most was that if flooding could be anticipated so far in advance, why wasn't something done to prevent it?"
Brad Lawrence, director of public works for Fort Pierre, S.D., one of the places where homes were damaged and temporary levees had to be built, said he believed the corps had failed to understand the full scope of the threat flooding presented in 2011.
"Because of that, they never communicated what preparations and to what level were needed until it was too late," he said.
The Missouri River flows from Montana through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. Its basin also includes Wyoming.