April 13, 2021

Army Corps of Engineers Criticized for Flood Response

“The Associated Press is reporting that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has sent a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers, criticizing its handling of the now-flooded Missouri River.

Army Corps of Engineers Criticized for Flood Response

The letter, dated June 28th, questioned the amount of water that they let out of the Missouri River Reservoirs, implying that it may not have been enough. Another issue was a lack of communication with farmers as the flooding got worse. “”This news was delivered via the mass media with little, if any, outreach to those impacted,”" Vilsack wrote.

In response, the Army Corps stated that flows were adjusted according to the huge snowmelt upstream, but record rain in the spring was not expected.

Six counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas – Woodbury, Harrison, Monona, Pottawattamie, Fremont and Mills. The farmers in these counties will be able to apply for federal aid. Aid may also be given to farmers in surrounding counties.

Although Vilsack is the most recent politician to question how the situation was handled, he isn’t the first. Members of Congress, particularly the Iowa delegation, have been particularly vocal.

Governor Terry Branstad, who also criticized the Army Corps, has reached out to the Governors of Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska to join him in putting together an organization of downstream states. He believes that the upstream interests are being prioritized, resulting in downstream problems such as flood damage.

In his letter, Vilsack wrote “”I am hopeful that subsequent to this disaster, the Corps will embark on a thorough evaluation of the decision-making leading up to and during the flooding to identify pitfalls and lessons learned. It would be helpful to engage the public in this process.”" While Vilsack didn’t judge the damn operations, he noted that the farmers were taken by surprise by the flooding due to no forewarning.

Army Corps spokeswoman Jasmine Chopra stated that more water than usual was released from the Missouri River dams during the fall and winter. “”The Corps fully intends to conduct a full-scale assessment of this year’s flood to determine the effects and learn where adjustment might be warranted in the future,”" said Chopra.

The Corps will be reviewing its operation, while Congress will have its own hearings. A bipartisan group of 14 senators from the Missouri River states has also requested a hearing on the Corps’ handling of the situation.

In total, more than 560,000 acres of land have been flooded, spanning seven states. 440,000 of these acres are farmland. The worst hit state is Iowa, with about one third of the flooded land, 158,000 acres of which are farmland.”

Additional resource links:

Des Moines Register

Agriculture Secretary Questions Corps On Missouri Flooding

Army Corps Engineers Tackle Missouri River Flooding

This May, heavy rains in Montana and North Dakota caused record flooding, which led to thousands of people evacuating, levees being breached in Nebraska and Missouri and a large amount of farmland being saturated. With high waters expect to last through August, officials and engineers are trying to find solutions. One of these solutions is that the US Army Corps of Engineers opened the spillway of the Garrison Dam, on the Missouri River.

Army Corps Engineers Tackle Missouri River Flooding

The Corps has also taken additional steps to address this issue of flooding. It has started draining its reservoirs in Missouri and sending the water downstream at a vastly increased rate. The Corps has also begun freeing up more storage capacity in its reservoirs for flood control, taking away space from things such as irrigation, hydropower and recreation.

Even with the aid of the dam and spillway, the flooding has had significant effects on the region. In Pick City, North Dakota, fishing boat tour revenue has been down due to the closure of all the boat ramps in the vicinity, because of high water. The water treatment plant in Blair, Nebraska, is also in danger due to the floods, which could affect the jobs of around 1,000 employees.

The Corps is looking towards other possible remedies to solve this problem. One possibility on the table is a $1 billion to $2 billion restoration bill aimed at fixing levees, floodways and river-navigation. There is also the potential of adding a new floodway that could be used as a relief valve in times of heavy flooding. The Corps is also re-examining a Congressional management plan from the 40s to see what they can learn about the effectiveness of that plan.

Corps engineers have faced animosity from citizens who feel that they should’ve handled the situation more efficiently. Some members of the public feel that the Corps should’ve been better prepared, and that they should’ve already made room in the Corps reservoirs in anticipation of spring flooding. Others feel that this amount of flooding was unprecedented and could not have been predicted.

Any future flood control efforts by the Corps are likely to be met with further criticism and potential lawsuits. As the states await a resolution to the continual problems of flooding, differing financial interests may cause divisions between them. There could be a possible face-off between the recreational industries of the Dakotas and Montana, and the shipping and agricultural industries of Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. Whichever side comes out on top, there are likely to be unsatisfied parties even after the flooding has been controlled.