Nobody Wants a Repeat of the 2011 Missouri River Flood

Spring is just around the corner in South Dakota, and many residents are rightfully concerned about the higher-than-normal snowpack levels in the Upper Missouri River Basin, which could cause flooding along the Missouri River in our state.


NOAA, which is the federal scientific agency in charge of weather and climate monitoring, recently released its 2018 spring flood outlook report, which found that through May, moderate flooding is likely in parts of the Lower Missouri River basin. It also says that minor flooding is possible in parts of the Upper Missouri River Basin as above-normal snowpack melts. This reaffirms our belief that the Corps should be taking action sooner rather than later to make sure their plan recognizes flood control as their primary responsibility.


Also this month, the U.S. Federal Claims Court ruled that the Corps’ mismanagement of the Missouri River caused a number of floods between the years 2007 and 2014. It was determined that the Corps’ management plan was focused less on flood control and more on maintaining ecosystems for certain animals, including the pallid sturgeon, even though flood control is supposed to be their top priority.


As the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight, one of my duties is to oversee the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for properly managing the Missouri River. Over the past three years, I have held multiple hearings on the Corps’ management of the river. I recently sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James, requesting a briefing on the 2018 Missouri River management plan. High levels of snowpack this early in the season are worrisome, and in my letter I urged the Corps to carefully monitor them, and communicate openly with communities along the river about risks of flooding.


In 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the 2011 flood, and recommended a snowpack monitoring system by implemented along the Upper Missouri River Basin so the Corps could make better, more informed decisions with improved forecasting models. Additionally in 2014, a Water Resources Reform bill known as WRDA, was signed into law and it authorized the Corps to create this recommended soil moisture and snowpack monitoring system along the basin. In 2016, I offered an amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations bill that would authorize the use of up to $2 million within the Corps’ existing budget to implement such a system. Still, the system has not been built.


The Corps’ has claimed that Congress never authorized this funding, but the reality is that the Corps has never requested additional funding for this program that it has been authorized by Congress to implement. This has been incredibly frustrating, and is a sign that they have not learned from their mistakes of 2011.


If you have been following along on my Facebook or Twitter pages recently, you may have seen that we are posting daily updates of the water levels at each of the dams along the upper Missouri. We’ll continue doing this until we are confident that the threat of another major flood has gone away.


The Missouri River plays a vital role in the economy and livelihoods of those living in communities along the river. Proper management of the Missouri requires the Corps to work closely and communicate extensively with stakeholders such as state and local governments and understand the needs of the communities within the Missouri River basin. I will continue to monitor the Corps’ actions and will keep South Dakotans updated on any new information I receive.