Lawmakers: Corps should halt Mo. River environmental work until levees rebuilt

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23-  Lawmakers from the Missouri River and Iowa delegations sent a letter to House Appropriators asking that reconstruction work along the Missouri River be prioritized over environmental concerns. The request is an effort to ensure the Army Corps of Engineers focuses its efforts on the reconstruction of flood mitigation infrastructure.

The members requested that the House Appropriations Committee assign funding for the reconstruction of levees and other flood mitigation infrastructure damaged during this year's Missouri River flooding be given priority over spending on environmental projects along the River. The Committee will assign funds in the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations bill dealing with the Army Corps of Engineers work along the Missouri River.

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"Over the last decade, we have watched as the Corp's spending on environmental concerns has exploded, while, at the same time, its funding of flood prevention work has dwindled," said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). "This year's flooding wreaked havoc on levees and other infrastructure up and down the river. In this time of record debt and deficits, we need to make sure we're placing the highest priority possible on every dollar spent from the Treasury.

The ten lawmakers who signed the letter sent to the House Appropriations Committee leaders are: Steve King (R-Iowa) ,Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA), and Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS).

The content of the letter is below:

Dear Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Dicks, Chairman Frelinghuysen, and Ranking Member Visclosky,

As you work to finalize the Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, we write to ask that you place an increased emphasis on the provision of funds for efforts to repair and rebuild the flood control infrastructure in place along the Missouri River that was damaged during this year's historic flooding.

As you know, during this year's runoff season, we saw nearly 61 Million Acre Feet of runoff enter the Missouri River system. The sheer volume of water entering the reservoir system led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to take drastic measures to evacuate water from the system, eventually leading to record high water releases from Gavins Point Dam of 160,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), a release rate that more than doubled the previous record of 70,000 cfs. The USACE maintained extremely high releases throughout the summer and early fall. The end result of this was severe flooding throughout the Missouri River basin that left the affected families, farms, and communities under water for nearly four months. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland were affected, and millions of dollars in damage was done to roads and other public infrastructure.

Given the amount of damage done by this year's flooding, we are writing to ask that a priority be placed on the repair and reconstruction of the flood control infrastructure in place along the Missouri River that was damaged by the flood. With miles and miles of levees and other structures needing repair after this year's flooding, we are concerned that the USACE will not have sufficient resources available to bring all of the flood control infrastructure along the River back up to its pre-flood specifications. For many years, our constituents have noted with concern that the amount of funding expended by the USACE in the Missouri River basin for flood control has declined while the level of funding expended on environmental concerns has skyrocketed. A recent analysis of the Civil Works Budgets for the USACE from 2002 to 2012 found that USACE's budget for flood control spending in the Missouri River states declined by 98%, from $10.98 million in FY02 to $137,000 in FY12. The same analysis, however, revealed an explosion in the funds budgeted by the USACE for environmental work along the River, from $11 million in FY02 to $72.8 million in FY12 - an increase of 562.6%.

As communities along the Missouri River continue the recovery and rebuilding process, they need assurances that Congress and the USACE are taking immediate action to repair the levees and other infrastructure that is in place to protect them from flooding. Much of this infrastructure served its purpose this year and held back the rising water. However, the duration and severity of this year's flooding has left much of this infrastructure vulnerable to high water in the future, and in many areas, the relentless flooding washed out the levees altogether. An entire population along the River is unable to rebuild until the levees are repaired to their pre-flood levels, and without the protection offered by the levees, many farmers will have to pay triple crop insurance premiums for some of the most productive agricultural land in the world. 

We all understand the precarious state the federal budget is currently in, and we understand that spending in all areas of the budget must be prioritized. As such, we ask that language be included in the forthcoming FY12 Energy and Water Appropriations bill to require that spending by the USACE on any environmental concern in the Missouri River basin be redirected to the repair and reconstruction of levees and other flood control infrastructure along the River until such time as those repair and reconstruction efforts have been completed and the levees and other infrastructure have been rebuilt to their pre-flood specifications.

We appreciate your attention to this important matter, and we look forward to discussing this request with you in further detail, should you have any questions.


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