OMAHA (Reuters) - A united delegation of Missouri River basin governors said on Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to make flood control the top priority as the agency manages the Missouri River.
"The corps must do a better job in the future to prevent flooding," Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said.
Meeting just steps from the swollen Missouri, the governors requested the Corps thoroughly examine future management of the river in light of this year's flooding and report on alternate actions to reduce flood damage in the future.
As the Corps has managed this year's record flooding along the 2,300-mile river, the agency has come under criticism in some quarters for not adequately balancing its primary flood control mission with the commercial and recreational needs of the people and businesses located along the waterway.
"There is clear consensus that flood control must be the highest priority," the governors said in a joint letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh.
In addition to Heineman, the group included Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard. Wyoming Governor MatthewMead sent a representative.
Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana was scheduled to attend but did not. He has been critical of managing the river for barge traffic in the downstream states.
Brigadier General John McMahon, commander of the Northwestern Division based in Portland, Oregon, led a delegation of Corps officials.
The governors came to Omaha with individual agendas based on historic differences between upstream and downstream states, such as recreation in upstream states and navigation in downstream states.
Nixon said that each of the states gave up something to agree that flood control must be the top priority in managing the river. Barge transportation on the Missouri is a big industry in Missouri.
MANAGING THE MISSOURI
North Dakota's Dalrymple said he raised the possibility of managing the Missouri under an agreement among the basin states to better balance the competing interests of upstream and downstream states. The river is currently managed by the Corps under authority of Congress and a change would require a new law.
The entire 2,321-mile length of the river flooded this summer from Montana to Missouri. Heavy snows across the Great Plains and historically heavy rainfall caused the flooding. It started in late May and is expected to continue into late September.
Record-setting runoff poured into the basin above Sioux City, Iowa, this year. The combined runoff for May, June and July was 34.2 million acre feet, or nearly 40 percent greater than the normal total annual runoff of 24.8 million acre feet.
Releases from Corps reservoirs have been at unprecedented rates and durations this year.
"Despite the valiant efforts of many, the damage to homes, farms and industries will take years to repair," the governors said in their letter.
Corps officials say 2011 is the wettest season and wettest year in the Missouri River basin in more than a century of records.
The Corps reached a milestone in the flooding earlier this week when the last of its six big reservoirs on the Missouri released the last of the water in the system's exclusive flood-control zone. The exclusive flood-control zone is the top six percent of storage available in the reservoir system. It holds 4.7 million acre feet of water.
The Corps says it now must release 11.6 million acre feet of water before March 1, 2012, to provide space in the reservoirs for next year's runoff.
(Editing by James Kelleher and Jerry Norton)