Nebraska’s United States Senators have been invited to join a new “Missouri River Working Group” which hopes to put disputes between downstream and upstream states behind and work to avoid a repeat of current flooding.
Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill worked with North Dakota Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad to form the group. Both Senator Johanns and Senator Nelson have confirmed to Nebraska Radio Network that they have been invited to join the group which likely will meet for the first time this week.
Upstream and downstream states have had a contentious relationship over the years. Disputes center on how much water is released from dams upstream on the Missouri River. Those disputes, though, normally rest on how little is released, not how much. In a normal year, releases from the upstream dams determine how long the barge season will be downstream.
That could be part of the problem.
Senator Johanns wonders whether the master manual that guides how the Corps manages the Missouri might have relied too heavily on drought years
“So, again, I just think it’s important that we take a look at what we’re doing so we’re not only prepared in dry years, but we’re prepared in years like this where there’s a lot of snow and a lot of rain,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Senator Nelson says the Corps of Engineers should have better warned downstream residents about those conditions. He faults the Corps for not informing downstream residents sooner that huge flows would be released from upstream reservoirs.
“They could have known that months ago and people would have been less surprised and more informed and maybe better prepared to deal with the challenges that everybody is facing on the Missouri River,” Nelson says in a Nebraska Radio Network interview.
Record snow melt from the mountains combined with record spring rainfall to raise water levels to record levels on the six upstream reservoirs. The Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing huge amounts of water into an already swollen Missouri River to take pressure off upstream dams.
The working group could meet Wednesday. The senators involved say they hope to evaluate the factors that led to this year’s flooding and consider ways to avoid a repeat.