Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) today launched a two-day review of dikes, levees and other operations of the Missouri River Mainstem System from Montana to Missouri. The senators are assessing damages incurred from the historic 2011 Missouri River floods, reviewing the progress of repairs, and working to determine how the Army Corps of Engineers can better manage flood protection in the future.
They are also working together to achieve a better understanding about how to improve management of the river to address both upstream and downstream needs after last year's flooding. The severe impacts to communities throughout the basin have heightened the need to find solutions to long-term challenges, like sand bars and bank stabilization, which demand a fresh approach to river management.
Brig. Gen. John McMahon, Northwestern Division Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers; Jody Farhat, Chief, Missouri River Basin Water Management, Northwestern Division; John Bertino, Chief, Engineering Division, Omaha District; and other high-ranking Corps officials responsible for maintaining and operating the system accompanied the senators to answer questions and brief them on Corps' mitigation and recovery activities.
Congress in December approved a supplemental appropriation of $700 million for the Army Corps of Engineers' flood recovery efforts, the bulk of which are devoted to general operations, maintenance and flood control on the Missouri River. Both Senator Hoeven and Senator Blunt are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and helped to secure the funding for basin communities hard hit by flooding last year.
The senators began their review at North Dakota's Garrison Dam, the third largest in the nation, where they completed an onsite examination of the spillway and one of the three tunnels that were used to release water from Lake Sakakawea at the height of the flood. They reviewed flood impacts on the dam and got a summary of repair work that is in progress. Hoeven underscored the vital need to improve the river channel and bank stabilization downstream of the dam between Garrison and Lake Oahe, particularly south of Bismarck, where sandbars pose a risk of ice jams.
The senators also reviewed operations and repair work at the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, which was damaged in last year's flooding. The hatchery, which is operated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides hatchery-raised fish to mitigate impacts from federal water projects and help maintain healthy recreational fisheries.
Hoeven and Blunt are working in the U.S. Senate to initiate a new era of cooperation among Missouri River states to improve flood control and river management in the aftermath of last year's flooding. They say a better understanding by Congress and the Corps of how the system's dams, levees, and other components work together to achieve the river's various authorized uses can help river managers meet the challenges of flooding and the needs of residents, both upstream and downstream, who depend on its waters for their livelihoods.
"The Missouri River is a source of income and recreation for thousands of residents and tourists along its entire 2,340-mile run," Hoeven said. "Clearly, the Corps needs to use the flexibility it has to conserve water in drought and move water out of the system during a wet cycle to prevent the kind of flooding we saw last year. Also, although under a different jurisdiction, I want to make clear that the Corps absolutely should not be charging us for our own water. That's not a decision for Gen. McMahon, but I will continue to make the case wherever I can, and press it with Assistant Secretary for the Army, Jo-Ellen Darcy."
"The Missouri River is critical to the region's identity, culture, and economy," said Blunt. "While Missouri River states benefit from fertile farmland, commerce, and water supply through this natural resource, our communities and farmers can also face enormous challenges during years of abundant rainfall or runoff. This first-hand look at the entire river system will give Senator Hoeven and me more opportunity to work together to ensure that river management maximizes the benefits and minimizes the drawbacks of this valuable resource for communities up and down the Missouri River."
Following the hatchery review, the senators departed for an aerial and onsite visit to Fort Peck Dam, where they inspected the spillway and ring gates in the flood tunnels. En route from the air they reviewed the Yellowstone Intake.