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States, Corps Sign Flood, Navigation Pact

The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA)—a five-state interstate organization representing the joint interests of the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin—announced November 27 that it is partnering with the Corps of Engineers to improve management of floods, sedimentation and extended drought in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

A signing ceremony was held at the Rock Island, Ill., Arsenal the same day, with officials from the states and the Corps.

According to Kirsten Wallace, UMRBA executive director, the agreement was borne out of years of frustration with what Upper Mississippi states saw as an inadequate Corps response to changing climate and river conditions.

“Emergency closures of the 9-foot navigation channel are occurring every year, if not multiple times in a year, due to major flood events or sediment build-up,” she said. “The volume and velocity of water and sediment are overwhelming the Corps and there had not been  enough input from local stakeholders, including the states, even though they  are legally responsible for issuing water quality permits for disposal of dredged material.”

Wallace cited an increasing number of navigation channel closures, like the one in August 2017 that resulted in an unscheduled week-long closure of the Illinois Waterway south of LaGrange Lock.  She said there was a general feeling among the states that the Corps was reacting to events and needed a coordinated plan with buy-in and feedback from the states and local stakeholders like levee districts.

Wallace described the agreement as a formal first step in getting better local and regional consensus on flood control and channel management efforts—consensus that was lacking before and that is necessary for the states in the region to effectively advocate in Congress for increased Corps funding to deal with the flood and sediment events. She said the five states had agreed to contribute $100,000 toward any studies that might be required to develop a new policy, with the Corps contributing matching in-kind services on a 50/50 cost-share basis.

In a press release, UMRBA said, “The first step [in the partnership] will involve [the Corps] listening and learning from waterways industry, local communities throughout the floodplain and watershed, agricultural producers and conservation organizations. The states recognize that the Upper Mississippi watershed is sending an excessive volume of water and sediment through the floodplain at a high velocity that is surpassing its capacity to handle. Major flood events and constrictions of the navigation channel are increasing in frequency and intensity, creating economic and ecological disruptions that ripple throughout the Midwest. The resulting challenges are profoundly acute for river cities and towns as well as shippers and consumers reliant on the 9-foot navigation system.

“Together, UMRBA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will engage communities, river-reliant industries, and other organizations within the floodplain community to create a commonly-held vision with goals, objectives, and an implementation strategy for ensuring that the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers are thriving and resilient.”

According to UMRBA, this agreement builds on the results of a 2017 Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers Flood Risk and Sediment Management Summit.

A summary of the summit outcomes is available at http://umrba.org/2017flood-sediment-summit.pdf.

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