Governors of states affected by the Missouri River met today to discuss preparing against future flooding events. States along the entire length of the Missouri were greatly affected by record flooding during the spring of 2011. Analysts during a similar meeting last year predicted another wet year for 2012.
Governor’s from states like Nebraska and Iowa wanted upstream states like North Dakota and Montana to significantly lower water in their reservoirs to prepare for this year’s flooding season. Governor Brian Schweitzer is happy the federal government did not heed that request.
The federal government controls the dams on the Missouri River–through the Army Corps of Engineers. So when the Governors of the states along the Missouri meet to talk about controlling reservoir water levels–they’re basically making suggestions.
Priorities from downstream governors this year sounded similar to last year.
“Again, I’m gonna sound like a broken record. It’s been established by the governor’s but we believe flood control needs to be established as the highest priority for the Missouri River management,” said Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds at the meeting in Bismark, N.D.
Figures show about 70 percent of the water in the Missouri River comes from Montana. The downstream governors last year advocated heavy drawdowns on Fort Peck Reservoir. That way–the reservoir could hold a lot more of our mountain snowmelt this Spring.
But flood control was not the top priority for every governor last year–namely Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer–and the same is true now.
In 2011, Schweitzer said it was too early to predict what would happen with the next year’s flood season. If another major high water year did not come, Montana would be left without enough water in Fort Peck for its needs–like irrigation.
Ultimately, the Corps decided to keep with its traditional framework for determining reservoir water levels—thus no major drawdowns. The Corps has instead been focusing resources on repairing dams and levees damaged last year. Governor Schweitzer joined the meeting via a conference call in Helena. He pointed out that predictions for 2012 did not end up coming true.
“2011 was the biggest year since Noah built his boat and now 2012 is actually less than the average of the last 110 years—all in one year,” he said.
Schweitzer says the downstream states did not follow the Army Corps warning in the early 90s that they should not allow building in the Missouri flood plain. The Corps’ Brigadier General John McMahon agrees with Schweitzer on that point. That’s part of the reason he says policy makers at all levels of government need to stay vigilant in planning for floods in every way they can.
“My big fear is that as time goes on and we enjoy this kind of great weather we’re gonna lose the momentum that’s been generated out of the 2011 event,” McMahon said.
But a dramatic lowering of Fort Peck was barely discussed as an approach this year.