Missouri River flooding spurred cooperation between states, and governors say they see progress

15 de Diciembre de 2023 a las 09:00 ·

The 2019 floods destroyed roads in Nebraska. Governors in the Midwest quickly came together to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on responding to the floods and preventing future disasters. Four years later, the meetings continue.

Governors from Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri continued claiming a larger role in managing the Missouri River.

They met with the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday in Omaha to discuss issues on the river. Representatives from Kansas also attended the meeting.

The event was one of a running series between the four states and the Corps of Engineers, which Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen said will continue indefinitely.

The group kicked off the partnership in 2019 after that year’s floods caused billions of dollars in damages to the region.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said there was a lot of frustration in those early meetings, but now she's seeing progress.

“The conversation that we had today was much different than the conversation we had in 2019,” she said.

“Instead of waiting for that disaster to hit, we needed to get better at maintenance and get in front of it. So we can be better prepared and more resilient when that next flood happens.”

For example, Reynolds said state officials worked with the Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to raise a levee above emergency guidelines. That could do a better job of protecting the southwest Iowa town of Hamburg, which was submerged by the 2019 floods.

“That’s something we were able to do that puts Hamburg in a better place,” she said.

Reynolds said Iowa has established an office to address inadequate designs, structural performances and operational control of levees. The state is also distributing $25 million to study its 900-mile levee system and will provide grants for improvement projects.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said levee setback projects will better protect his state in future floods. Parson also said the collaboration has worked on fast-tracking projects, instead of letting them get stuck in studies.

“It can take 10 to 12 years just to study something,” he said. “People in our states expect more than a study when it comes to disasters. They want to see action.”

Parson said staying focused on flood control is important even while the region is suffering from a years-long drought.

“You cannot let up on what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t want to go back to the old days, just because we haven’t had a flood so now it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.