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Army Corps Sees Firsthand our Concerns about Missouri River Management

With summer in full swing, many South Dakotans have been taking advantage of the warm weather with some R&R along the Missouri. Jean and I have enjoyed spending time on the river with the kids and grandkids. However, I continue to be concerned about the Army Corps of Engineers’ management of the river. With recent near-record rainfall in parts of the state and reports of significant flooding along the Missouri River System both north and south of us, many of us throughout the state continue to be concerned about the potential for flooding again this year.

As Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Oversight, which has jurisdiction over the Corps, I have remained engaged with Corps officials on the management practices. Oftentimes, I’ve called into question whether the Corps is actually putting flood control ahead of everything else when making decisions. It is important that the Corps fully understands that when they mismanage output, they can seriously impact the lives of individuals who live and work along the river.

The dams throughout the Missouri River System generate a significant amount of energy for tens of thousands of citizens across the Midwest. Compared to solar and wind power, hydroelectric power is a more reliable source of energy. As these renewable sources become a larger part of our energy portfolio, the power generated from the dams has become more heavily relied on to meet our energy needs. This additional strain has led to more wear-and-tear on our dam system, requiring more maintenance, as well as dramatic fluctuations in flow levels. The occurrence of daily fluctuations raises the risk of property damage along the river due to flooding and could also impact the fish and spawn that recreational fisherman along the river depend on for a successful fishing season.

Just before the 4th of July holiday, I had the opportunity to host Colonel John L. Hudson, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, in Pierre to discuss our concerns firsthand. During our meeting, I relayed to him our concerns that the Corps did not adequately prioritize flood control earlier in the season. This has led to high water levels across the state, from Mobridge to Dakota Dunes to the Lower Brule Reservation, where they await Congress to complete its work on legislation that will authorize a project to help them stabilize the shoreline along the river, which will help decrease the threat of flooding.

While the Corps is now operating in exclusively flood control mode this year, we question whether flood control management should have taken greater priority earlier in the season. If they would have begun letting out more water earlier, we may not have the same concerns about flooding as we do currently.

 South Dakotans know the important role the Missouri River plays in our lives. We use it for fishing, irrigation, recreation and more. Failing to properly manage the river by the Army Corps of Engineers puts our livelihood in jeopardy. As Chairman of the EPW Subcommittee on Oversight, I will continue to keep a close watch on the action the agency is taking to make certain flood control is number one, and that we continue to be able to fully utilize the river, both now and in the future.