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Managing the Missouri River: Elected officials call for more local control

  

SEDALIA, Mo. — Following months of severe flooding, elected officials are calling for more local control of the management of the Missouri River, saying it’s “about flood control, not environmentalism.”

“We got to figure out a management of the river where we take a different priority. One thing I can tell you, the two priorities I would have of the Missouri River, and what I am going to push for everyday: safety of Missourians and property of our farmers and the people out there who are devastated,” Gov. Mike Parson said at the Missouri State Fair.  

To that end, he created a group dedicated to looking at short-, medium-, and long-term flood recovery — which meet for the first time earlier this week. 

Historic flooding in 2019 washed out highways, bridges, and more than 80 levees; swamped farm lands and cities; and sent residents fleeing. This year was Missouri’s wettest May based on statewide average precipitation and the third wettest month in the state’s recorded history, going back to 1895. 

Management of the Missouri River falls to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

According to John Remus, chief of Missouri River Basin Water Management for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, eliminating flooding and reducing flood impact are two different things. 

“There is a lot we can do to mitigate flood risk. The one thing we cannot do is eliminate flood risk,” Remus told The Missouri Times. “If we put the levee system back the way it was, we will have the same flooding risk. People in the basin want more flood risk reduction; we are really going to have to do something different to make that happen.”

The Missouri River is a runoff driven system, meaning the amount of water that runs off in a year is managed on a yearly basis. In times of high runoff, flood risk management purpose drives decisions.  

“We have eight authorized purposes for the system but really only one has one priority, and that is life saving,” Remus said. “And in times of flooding and high runoff, flood control is life safety.”

Southeast Missouri Congressman Jason Smith told a crowd at the Missouri State Fair that the Missouri River needs the infrastructure and management that the Mississippi River has.

“You look at the effects of the flooding that we had south of Cape Girardeau, and it could have been so much worse than it was, but it was because of the infrastructure that was brought forward through the [Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries] project,” Smith said.

“If we have that on the Missouri River, you can see a phenomenal step in our navigation, in getting our richest commodities from Missouri to feed the world. And to help our farmers, help our commodity prices,” he continued.

But there are some distinct differences between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Remus noted the Mississippi has no flood control or storage reservoirs on the main stem and the channel capacity of the Mississippi is far greater than the Missouri River. 

“We can not afford to do nothing in this state,” Parson said. “We should have a seat at the table on the management of the Missouri River.”