Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is urging governors in three surrounding states to consider pulling out of a Missouri River Association because of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' long-term management of the river and what he believes is a tendency for the Corps to favor upstream states.
Last week it was announced that Branstad wrote a letter earlier this spring urging the governors of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska to discuss forming a new group of downstream states. The four states are now members of the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes, which was formed in 2006 to advise federal agencies. The association also includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, and American Indian tribes in the Missouri River Basin.
The Missouri River has flowed from its banks in 2011 and public officials and residents have criticized the Corps of Engineers for its management of the upstream series of reservoirs in the Dakotas. Those reservoirs filled to the brim with water from spring rains and an enormous Rocky Mountain snowpack.
Governor dissatisfied with the way the Corps has handled flooding
Branstad sent his letter to the other governors in April. That was more than a month before the corps opted to begin massive releases of water from the upstream dams that raised the Missouri River to historic levels and forced residents along the river to erect temporary barriers with sandbags and dikes and levee extensions. In some cases people have had to abandon their homes and farms. A significant amount of farmland along the river has been flooded.
In his letter to the other governors on April 22, Branstad said, "As governor of Iowa, my duty is to constantly pursue opportunities in the best interest of this state, as such Iowa is currently evaluating whether to maintain its membership in MORAST," which is the name of the current Mississippi River association.
Branstad suggested to the other governors that they consider establishing a Missouri River Coalition of Downstream States that would include Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. These states, he says, could join to seek common goals from the federal government.
Too much emphasis on recreation uses, not enough on flood control
Branstad wrote in the April letter, and has likewise voiced his concerns several times recently, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is focused too heavily on recreational uses at the six large upstream reservoirs. He says, "MORAST has not represented nor balanced the interests of its members, in particular the downstream states as it persists in taking a narrow focus on upstream recreational interests."
At recent public meetings, corps officials have said they have based decisions about water releases from the reservoirs on a detailed manual developed over 14 years of study beginning in 1989. Corps officials say the serious flooding along the Missouri River today is almost certain to force a review of the decisions that were made. "We realize that 2011 has been a new experience for us," says Monique Farmer, a spokeswoman for the corps in Omaha. "We intend to conduct a full-scale assessment to determine what, if any, changes we can make."
Branstad points out that he reached his conclusion about the need for better downstream representation before this year's flooding, but he says he won't pursue the matter until after the flooding recedes.