Flood Prioritization Bill Introduced For Missouri River

Missouri River management practices are the focus of a new bill in Congress, as well as of a lawsuit whose latest phase will take place in June.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt introduced a bill in Congress March 5 to require the Corps of Engineers to manage the Missouri River for flood control only, and to disregard earlier mandates for species preservation.

It’s not the first time such a bill has been introduced. Last year, Missouri’s other senator, Josh Hawley, introduced a bill, S.1571, that would have required the Corps to operate the river’s mainstem reservoirs for flood control only, meaning the Corps could not make any releases to support endangered species. Blunt’s bill was co-sponsored by Hawley.

The Missouri River experienced devastating flooding last year, the effects of which are still being repaired. Many thousands of acres of farmland were flooded, and hundreds of levees were damaged or breached. Weather forecasts indicate a similar season this year.

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Stakeholders along the Missouri River have complained for years about the Corps’ management practices. In 2014, a group of them filed suit against the Corps, alleging that more frequent flooding of their land was due to the Corps changing priorities from flood control to species preservation. The case was known as Ideker Farms Inc. et. al. vs. United States.

According to a fact sheet by Polsinelli, the Kansas City law firm that represented the Ideker Farms plaintiffs, “The Missouri River has changed since 2004, and it is now more prone to flooding. For over six decades, the Corps placed the highest priority on flood control as mandated by Congress in the Flood Control Act of 1944. The water management guidelines and the Corps’ operations of the Missouri River, under last century’s new reservoir system and the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project, resulted in the narrowing of the river, stabilization of the banks and abatement of flooding. Since 2004, that has changed with the de-prioritization of flood control by the Corps and aggressive construction of habitat for fish and wildlife. The changes have adversely affected those in the river basin.”

A judge agreed, ruling for the plaintiffs on March 13, 2018 that the flooding damage to their property amounted to an illegal “taking” of it. Since then, the case has been in federal claims court while compensation for property owners is being negotiated.

Dan Boulware, lead attorney for the Ideker Farms plaintiffs, told The Waterways Journal that the parties will appear before Judge Firestone in June to have the amount of compensation ruled on. That ruling could come by September. He said the Corps has already filed notice that it intends to appeal.