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Letter to President Obama

Rep. Kristi Noem today was joined by South Dakota's delegation, other upstream representatives, senators and governors in sending a letter to President Obama, Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy and FEMA Administrator William Fugate expressing strong opposition to ongoing efforts to obtain an emergency declaration to increase water releases from the Missouri River to aid navigation on the Mississippi River. Because of drought-induced low water levels, efforts are underway to convince the Administration to unlawfully increase water releases from the Missouri River system of dams and reservoirs specifically to aid navigation on the Mississippi River.

"I understand the challenges those along the Mississippi River are facing, but an unlawful release of water would not only set a dangerous precedent, it would also have a negative impact on South Dakota farms and businesses that are also suffering from drought," said Rep. Noem. "I strongly urge President Obama and his Administration not to exceed their legal authority to the detriment of our communities."

Joining Rep. Noem, Sen. John Thune, Sen. Tim Johnson and Gov. Dennis Daugaard in signing the letter were: Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND); Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND); Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND); Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT); Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT); Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS); Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS); Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS); Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS); Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R-ND); Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS).

The full text of the letter is below:

November 30, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy

President Assistant Secretary of the Army

The White House 108 Army Pentagon

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20310

Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy

Assistant Secretary of the Army

108 Army Pentagon

Washington, DC 20310

Mr. William Craig Fugate

Administrator

Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C Street SW, Room 828

Washington, DC 20472

Dear Mr. President, Secretary Darcy, Administrator Fugate:

We write to express our strong opposition to the misguided efforts of those encouraging you to make an emergency declaration under the authority of the Stafford Act due to economic losses resulting from reduced barge traffic on the Mississippi River. Because of drought-induced low water levels, you have been requested to unlawfully increase water releases from the Missouri River's system of dams and reservoirs specifically to aid navigation on the Mississippi River.

As you know, the Corps of Engineers does not have the legal authority to release Missouri River reservoir water specifically to aid Mississippi River navigation. The General Accounting Office (now known as the Government Accountability Office) concluded in a report on this precise issue that the Corps is not authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944 to operate reservoirs on the Missouri River for the primary benefit of navigation on the Mississippi River. Under the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Control Manual, the Corps operates the Missouri River mainstem system for eight authorized purposes: flood control, hydropower, water supply, water quality, recreation, irrigation, fish and wildlife, and Missouri River navigation. Seeking to utilize significant water resources on the Missouri River for the benefit of navigation on the Mississippi River would not only be short-sighted, but would also cause harm to our states and the other authorized purposes within the Missouri River basin both in the short and long-term.

An unlawful order to increase releases of Missouri River reservoir water from the Missouri River reservoirs will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the people and many businesses in the states we represent, which are also suffering overwhelmingly from the effects of drought. As the chief of the Corps' Missouri Water Management Division has noted, "[t]he drought in the Missouri River basin has affected the reservoir system in two ways: there is less water coming in and more water going out." Clearly, unlawful releases of additional water from Missouri River reservoirs will only exacerbate the drought-related losses already experienced by the communities, tribes, and industries that rely on water from the Missouri River.

Increasing releases in a misguided effort to alleviate drought conditions will also increase the risk of ice-induced flooding along the Missouri River, endangering communities that have yet to recover from the devastating flooding of 2011.

Moreover, nowhere in the Stafford Act is authority granted the President to use federal resources to alleviate economic losses, including for the businesses and industries experiencing losses due to reduced Mississippi River barge traffic. Under the Stafford Act, the President is directed under a designation to direct any Federal agency "…to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe." The Stafford Act is designed to help those who are affected by a natural catastrophe, not those impacted by a so-called "economic catastrophe." The request that the President make an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act for economic assistance is misguided as it asks for an option not legally available to the President. We urge you to deny these requests without delay.

In conclusion, we can appreciate the situation that navigation users have faced this year on the Mississippi River, because we have also been impacted by the drought, but the relief requested is outside of the authorities contained in the Stafford Act.

Sincerely,

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-SD)

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND)

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS)

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)

Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R-ND)

Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS)


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