Washington, DC – The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), held a hearing this morning to review the response and management of the major 2011 flood of the Missouri River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages a comprehensive system for the purposes of flood control, navigation improvement, irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, hydroelectric generation facilities, and other important purposes for the 10 states in the Missouri River Basin.

2011 was an extraordinary year for flooding in the basin, as it is estimated that by the end of the year the basin will have received approximately 61 million acre feet of water, easily exceeding the previous record of 49 million acre feet, set in 1997. The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of writing their 2012 operating plan for the basin, and the flood of 2011 will serve as a source of many lessons learned as they work to determine a plan to operate the system in the coming year. The Subcommittee this morning reviewed the response to the 2011 flood, as well as the management of the system throughout the year, in order to better understand how best to operate the system in the future.

“In spite of the fact that non-federal partners now are paying a significant portion of project costs, we have not taken steps to recapitalize the water resources infrastructure that previous generations have entrusted to us,” said Chairman Gibbs. “Investing some of our limited federal dollars in flood protection and navigation infrastructure not only provides jobs during the construction period, but also provides economic benefits that save more jobs once the project is completed.

“I believe we should recapitalize the nation’s flood damage reduction infrastructure and believe we need to make policy changes to be sure that we are making the best investments of taxpayer dollars. At the same time, I believe local governments have got to make wise land use decisions in their communities that will keep homes and businesses out of harm’s way,” Gibbs continued.

Click to view U.S. Rep. Gibbs’ opening statement (courtesy of TransportationGOP):

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) added, “I believe that we are asking the Corps of Engineers to juggle too many priorities,” said Graves. “We must make clear once and for all that the prevention of flooding has to be the number one priority.”

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) testified before the Subcommittee today, saying, “As we try to rebuild and put this year’s flooding behind us there are still many lingering questions which make hearings such as today’s so important. The Corps needs flexible management of the river to account for cyclical trends and still allow for proper balance between the authorized purposes of the system, with a priority on flood control.”

Ms. Kathy Kunkel, County Clerk, Holt County, Missouri expressed frustration that the Corps was purchasing land for endangered species while levees remain unrepaired: “There is a place for river restoration and the benefits to our environment – even in Holt County. We recognize the need for open space and hold our nearly 8,000 acre Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in high regard. Nearly 20% of Holt County’s landmass is already owned by a State or Federal agency for wildlife purpose. We’ve given enough. Holt Countians feel threatened and endangered. The American farmer in our region is fast approaching extinction.”

Mr. Tom Waters, President, Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association added, “It is time for the nation to invest in flood control infrastructure across the country. When congress spends $20 Million on a levee or flood control project, the result is a levee or structure that can be seen and provides protection for people and property. On the other hand, when congress spends $20 Million for fish and wildlife the result is, more often than not, 200-300 pages of reports from a study and a stack of hotel receipts from meetings and conferences.”

Click here to view the Background Memo (PDF).