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THUNE: Corps must update public on Missouri River status

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Water from the historic Missouri River flooding in 2011 has receded, but the damage caused to homes, businesses, and communities remains fresh in the minds of many South Dakotans. In 2011, the snowpack runoff and heavy spring rain led to the highest recorded water levels in the region and forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make unprecedented water management decisions on the Missouri River that greatly impacted South Dakotans. While both the Corps and communities in our region have learned a great deal since 2011, more information is needed to ensure we properly prepare for and mitigate future potential flood risks.

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This winter’s harsh, wet snowpack in the Central and Northern Rockies is reaching comparable levels to those of 2011. While reservoir levels and a number of other factors differ from 2011, there is a heightened concern about what this year’s high snowpack levels mean for river management and the threat of flooding along the river.

Critical to mitigating future potential damage along the Missouri is ensuring that communities and individuals along the river have access to information on current conditions and flood risks. I also believe these same individuals deserve regular updates on how the Corps is managing the reservoir system to limit the threat of flooding—particularly in light of the missteps in 2011.

To ensure the lessons learned in 2011 will inform prudent decision-making, I led the South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana delegations in a letter on March 12, 2014, to Brigadier General John Kem of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calling on the Corps to provide information about the Missouri River flood prevention plans and actions the Corps has taken since the 2011 floods to update and repair the dams and other flood control infrastructure. A greater level of engagement and information sharing by the Corps with states, tribes, local officials, and other federal agencies is critical to informing river management decisions, particularly under extreme conditions. 

I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to review the Corps of Engineers’ river management operations and infrastructure updates, and to ensure it continues to provide a greater level of engagement and information sharing with residents along the Missouri.

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