Blunt says Congress will challenge Army Corps' Missouri River plan

2011-06-23T12:07:00Z 2014-06-14T13:18:28Z Blunt says Congress will challenge Army Corps' Missouri River planBY BILL LAMBRECHT • > 202-298-6880

Flooding prompts the call for political solutions along the Missouri River.

WASHINGTON • The last overhaul of the Army Corps of Engineers' Missouri River bible of operations concluded in 2004 after 14 years of haggling with participants in the debate complaining they hadn't gotten what they want.

But Sen. Roy Blunt said today that as flooding worsens along the river, he is rounding up support in the basin for a new effort that would emphasize flood control as Army engineers' primary management task.

"I think we're going to have a legislative discussion about the master plan," Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters.

He was speaking after getting a sobering assessment today in Washington from Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of corps' Northwest Division, about the extent and duration of the flooding.

Blunt said he was told that the inflow from rain and snowmelt will significantly exceed any recorded since the corps started taking measurements in 1898.

"We're going to be dealing with flooding issues and high water issues along the Missouri until September," Blunt said.

Floodwater has triggered evacuations in the lower third of the river, breached at least a half-dozen levees and overtopped others, assuring major disruptions in Missouri farming this season.

In the St. Louis area, local corps officials have said that serious flooding can be avoided this summer absent persistent heavy rains. The decision to ramp up releases today from Gavins Point Dam, the easternmost of six Missouri dams, beyond flows scheduled just a week ago likely will intensify local planning.  

The corps' management has been challenged up and down the river, particuarly decisions on holding water in reservoirs this spring before weather conditions deteriorated.

Corps officials insist that their decisions were in line with its master manual, the document subject to the 14 years of recent scrutiny. The manual prescribes authorized purposes of the river based on legislation from the 1940s and recently has included provisions to assist recovery of federally protected species.

Blunt said he already has spoken to colleagues about pushing for changes, and he offered his version of what's most important. 

"I believe that the priority should be, first, flood control, and then navigation and then power generation, water supply, irrigation, wildife, and recreation," he said. "That doesn't mean recreation is not important; it just means that it's the last thing, and flood control is the first thing, and navigation comes right after that." 

He added: "I think it's going to require congressional involvement."

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, offered a similar assessment after meeting Wednesday in Washington with McMahon.

"We are currently asking the corps to juggle too many competing interests. Too much emphasis has been placed on recreation, habitat restoration and compliance with the Endangered Species Act," he said in a statement.


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