Corps searching for ways to avert flooding repeat

Thursday, December 15, 2011 | 7:58 p.m. CST

HELENA, Mont. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Missouri River governors Thursday that it is trying to find more room in its reservoirs to avoid a repeat of this summer's flooding that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to states along the Missouri River.

Corps Brig. Gen. John McMahon said his agency has so far tallied $630 million worth of flood damage to the levees, dams and channels built to control the river.

"I anticipate that number will continue to creep up a bit," McMahon said.

McMahon said he is awaiting funding from Congress to complete repairs. He said unrepaired damage to the control infrastructure would leave the drainage susceptible to flooding in 2012 if another unusually wet spring hits the region.

He told governors or representatives of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas that the agency is looking for more storage room for floodwater for 2012. McMahon said a report due next week is likely to have specific recommendations.

"We are setting ourselves up for a much better outcome," McMahon told the governors.

Some of the governors have been asking for more aggressive flood control.

McMahon said the agency will have to weigh the impact of such measures against the other uses for the river, such as barge traffic and wildlife concerns.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, for instance, has said the more aggressive flood control measures would infringe on his state's wildlife and recreation industries and lead to water shortages when drought hits. He has resisted the other Missouri River governors' efforts and predicted they will have little impact on whatever the Corps decides to do.

"It is going no direction," Schweitzer said of the governors' group. "These governors have no authority. They have less authority than a single member of Congress, who at least have a vote and hold the purse strings."

Nebraska and Iowa recently pulled out of a separate group called the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes, citing the dispute with Montana over how to manage the river and what they viewed as the group's unresponsiveness to their concerns.


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