Missouri River’s managers need to put flood control first, Rounds says

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Mike Rounds

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has become more sensitive to the public’s views about the Missouri River since the flood of 2011 and now is more open to sharing its plans, U.S. Senator Mike Rounds said Tuesday.

The South Dakota former governor is keeping close watch on the river as its level keeps going up. He said the water would be within a foot of the top of the Oahe Dam emergency spillway within a few days.

Rounds, who lives in a Fort Pierre housing development below the dam, said the corps has been “a little bit more responsive” this spring by releasing larger amounts of water earlier from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton.

A corps management team began a spring tour Tuesday with stops planned at Fort Peck, Montana, and Bismarck, North Dakota.

The team is scheduled to fly into Pierre on Wednesday morning for a 10 a.m. meeting at the Casey Tibbs rodeo center in Fort Pierre, weather permitting, and then travels to Sioux City, Iowa. UPDATE: the scheduled meeting for Wednesday has been cancelled. 

In 2011, the corps was releasing 160,000 cubic feet per second from Oahe at its June peak. The previous high was 59,000. Flooding socked Pierre, Fort Pierre, Dakota Dunes and Sioux City.

That experience just six months after Rounds finished his second term led him to push hard on the corps after he won the Senate seat in 2014.

Rounds said he’s been on the phone with corps officials two to three times per week recently and had been staying in contact at least monthly.

He said his staff has set up a war room of sorts at his Capitol Hill office to track the river’s rise

Rounds said he has hosted various top Army officials and acting U.S. secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan.

He said the corps found in a 2014 study that better monitoring was needed. That’s still in the works five years later.

“The bureaucracy itself is difficult. They don’t like being told what to do,” Rounds said.

He predicted the six mainstem dams — one each in Montana and North Dakota and four in South Dakota — would see big releases throughout this year.

“We just want to have the corps be pro-active on this and not have an oh-crap moment,” Rounds said. “Flood control was number one, and it still should be number one, on its list.”

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