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OUR VIEW: Blame for flood still spreading

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opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
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OUR VIEW: Blame for flood still spreading
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

There's a well-known cliché about adversity: It doesn't build character; it reveals it.

The character of people in the Missouri River basin was revealed to be tough, self-reliant and persevering last spring and summer as floodwater threatened our lives and property.


But something else was revealed, too. We weren't nearly as protected or ready for a flood as we thought.

The floodwater came with short notice for some cities along the river, causing a knee-jerk cascade of criticism against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams along the river and has flood control as part of its job.

Some criticism of the corps has been fair. Certainly, the corps could have let more water out of the river reservoirs earlier and should have notified more people of the flood threat sooner.

As we've learned more about what various officials from outside the corps knew and didn't know ahead of the flood, another cliché has come to mind: Whenever you point a finger, there are three more pointing back at you.

Take, for instance, these paragraphs from Wednesday's Associated Press report of a meeting involving officials from eight states along the river:

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer had early warnings that last summer's Missouri River flooding would be severe.

Todd Sando, North Dakota's chief state engineer, had similar worries about the potential torrent of melting snow and the shrinking room for storing the water in the Missouri's reservoirs.

The information Schweitzer and Sando were relying on was collected by state agencies and was not readily available to others.

So it's clear there's plenty of blame to go around. And, more importantly, it's clear there was a terribly deficient communication system -- or no system at all -- among the various local, state and federal agencies throughout the basin.

If our readers can stand yet another cliché, we'll coin one: Flooding doesn't build readiness; it reveals it.

This flood revealed we weren't ready. We can only hope and urge that officials at all levels of government are now making adjustments and building a better communication system for the next flood, as the news from Wednesday's meeting suggests.