As Missouri River rises, Brownback calls for flood control study

The Kansas City StarJune 16, 2011 

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday called for a 9/11-type federal commission to study flood-control policy along the Missouri River — as muddy, rising water swirled only a few feet away.

“I am frustrated,” Brownback said after viewing flood preparations near Leavenworth. “It’s time we talk about the impact of flooding on the Missouri River system … It’s about human life.”

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican whose 6th Congressional District constituents are nervously eyeing the swollen river, said he’ll also introduce legislation to change the way the Army Corps of Engineers manages flows into the Missouri basin.

“We are not managing the river, the river is managing us,” Graves said.

An emergency manager with the corps’ Kansas City office said that additional congressional oversight would be welcome, but that the agency is doing its best to deal with unprecedented spring rainfall and snowmelt in the northern United Sates.

“May really turned the world upside down up there in the reservoirs,” said Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the Kansas City district. “We were dealt a hand we didn’t expect.”

Brownback said the commission — which he compared to the inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — would be charged at the federal level with investigating competing demands for river management and making recommendations for changes in the flood control regulations used by the corps.

His office said Brownback will ask the Kansas congressional delegation in the next few weeks to help implement the commission. His office did not offer details on who would appoint the members or pay for the commission’s costs.

Brownback and Graves’ calls for action are part of growing criticism of the corps from some politicians and people living near the river. They’re angry at the decision to release billions of gallons of water from dams along the upper reaches of the Missouri — 150,000 cubic feet per second at two upriver dams this week, which is more than the flow over Niagara Falls in the summer.

The releases have caused the river to slowly rise downstream, threatening levies and prompting sandbagging and evacuations from North Dakota to Parkville and beyond.

The corps maintains that it is doing all it can to protect lives and property along the entire river basin, blaming the unexpected weather conditions for the higher releases of water.

“Without higher releases, the integrity of the system would be jeopardized,” Brig. Gen. John McMahon of the corps said in a statement.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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