Driving along the Missouri River on either the Nebraska side or through Iowa, Missouri and Kansas leaves one feeling like a frog on a lily pad. There’s water everywhere, mostly in places where it shouldn’t be.
Some roads that were closed since the March ‘Weathermageddon’ have been re-opened, more than once. Many of those are being closed again as the area prepares for another flood, at any minute.
Meanwhile, Nebraska Governor Ricketts and the governors of adjacent states are calling on the Corps of Engineers to make a new game plan concerning management of water in that River.
It might not seem like much in the greater scheme of things, but managing the release of water from Gavins Point Dam might be the only thing man can control. Part of that management includes the strengthening of vital levees along the river and making them taller when possible.
The governors started meeting with the Corp in April and have met several times since. Ricketts said recently the group is determined to push the Corps to "change the way we're managing the river" following this year's devastating flooding. In case you missed it, there have been at least a couple 500-year floods in recent years that make the case for managing the river differently.
It boils down to convincing the Corps to reconsider how to protect people and property downstream from Gavins Point Dam. Ricketts says Gavins Point, on the Missouri River in the Dakotas, is the last one to release the river water that pours downstream.
In March, snow, rain, ice and a raging river caused more than a billion dollars damage to Nebraska farmland. Bridges, roads and dams were broken and, in some cases, disappeared. Cattle and other livestock floated down rivers. Some areas were isolated when major roads were damaged or submerged. Some communities lost more than 50 percent of their inhabitable building stock.
It doesn’t take a lot to believe that more violent and unusual weather is in the cards. Heavy rain and hail has pelted large portions of the Panhandle and Central Nebraska almost all summer. Eastern Nebraska rainfall amounts have been running above average. In early July, heavy rains flooded areas from Lexington to Wood River and caused millions in property damage. Kearney lost more than half of its available hotel rooms and the recovery there continues.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has touted looking at the need from a regional perspective and in terms of the short- and long-term response. Ricketts said the collaboration of governors demonstrates the importance of the issue.
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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has said he wants to see some straight-up answers from the Corps with a number of options on the table. Parson suggested the inclusion of an outside agency in addition to the corps to help oversee Missouri River management.
“We want a seat at the table to make sure, moving forward, (we’re involved in) how those issues are addressed,” he said.
Ricketts said the four states are committed to working with the corps to examine basin and levee management practices going forward. He said the group is also looking at recommendations that, in the past, perhaps didn’t have enough “political will” behind them to succeed.
He said the Corps has been receptive to the states’ request to be more involved. One would think the Corps would appreciate a unified voice from the
people who have been hardest hit. Perhaps those higher up the food chain will be supportive of the four-state’s pleas and cooperative spirit.
Kudos to Ricketts for giving teeth to the “Nebraska Strong” flood recovery motto.
Let’s hope the right people pay attention.
J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 20 years.