4 Missouri River states unite to try to limit flooding
By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri are joining forces for a study that will look for ways the states can limit flooding along the Missouri River and give them information about how wetter weather patterns could require changes in the way the U.S. government manages the basin’s reservoirs.
The states are pooling their money to pay for half of a $400,000 study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to measure how much water flows down the Missouri River.
The states hope to present a united front to federal officials to gain more influence over how the river is managed after devastating floods in 2011 and 2019.
“We’ve got to look at the data, but it’s certainly possible that we’re going to see more wet years,” Republican Nebraska Gov. Ricketts said at a recent media briefing. “We need to collect the data first, and then we can address with the Corps what they ought to be doing.”
Officials from the states plan to meet next month to decide how to proceed.
A lot of the data the Corps uses to manage the Missouri River is outdated and doesn’t account for the two historic floods over the last decade, said Jeff Fassett, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. The Corps did not respond to requests for an interview.
“We need to be factoring in new information as we look forward,” Fassett said. “Nobody knows whether this is the new normal. What if 2023 looks like 2019? If this happens again, we need to be better prepared.”
The effort comes as higher global temperatures are causing glaciers to melt into the oceans and producing extreme weather conditions that are more intense and destructive than ever before. The states are bracing for more frequent and severe floods, even as some of their top officials, including Ricketts, question mainstream climate science.
Fassett said the states also want to identify “pinch points” on the river that could cause a water buildup during a flood.
He pointed to a crossing at Nebraska Highway 2, where the river spilled over its levees and covered Interstate 29 last year. Crews responded by raising and lengthening the bridge to let more water flow underneath.
States that work together tend to carry more sway with the federal government because they don’t make conflicting requests, said Tim Hall, the hydrology resources coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Hall said the partnership is similar to a group of upper Mississippi River states that joined forces in 1981 to mitigate flooding.
“It’s a lot easier than one state trying to negotiate with the Corps,” Hall said. “It can be done, but it’s more challenging.”
The partnership also encourages states to share data and not work against one another, Hall said.
“In the big picture, we all want to accomplish the same thing,” Hall said.
The Missouri is the longest river in North America, running from western Montana through the Dakotas and touching Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas before cutting across Missouri and entering the Mississippi River at St. Louis.
The states it touches once had a coalition known as Missouri River Association of States and Tribes, but it eventually disbanded after Iowa and Nebraska withdrew amid a dispute with Montana over how to manage the river. Nebraska and Iowa wanted more water released from upstream reservoirs earlier in the year to prevent summer flooding, but Montana was concerned about effects on wildlife and recreation during drought years.
The new, four-state coalition would focus on flood mitigation.