Sen. Roy Blunt introduced
legislation Thursday to overhaul the U.S. Army Corps Engineers after the
agency’s management of the Missouri River was blamed for exacerbating floods
that devastated the region last year.
The bill would direct the corps to
develop a comprehensive plan to reduce the risk of flooding from Sioux City,
Iowa to the river’s mouth at Spanish Lake, near St. Louis, a 735-mile stretch.
“After the historic flooding we saw
over last spring and in previous years, it is clear that we need to fundamentally
change the way the Missouri River is managed,” Blunt said in a statement.
“Farmers, families, and local
officials I’ve talked to are rightly concerned with the lack of progress that
has been made in repairing damaged infrastructure and putting stronger
protections in place for the future. We can’t just sit by and wait for the next
major flood event.”
The legislation has the backing of
every senator from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, the four states most
adversely affected by last year’s flooding, which damaged homes and destroyed
The bill is meant as a long-term
solution, not a preventive measure for what promises to be another brutal round
of flooding this year.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said in
a statement that rather than “taking ineffective reactionary measures after
severe flooding occurs, this legislation would provide the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers with the necessary tools to create a comprehensive, long-term
solution instead of another temporary fix.”
The other two Republican senators
from the Kansas City region, Sens. Josh Hawley and Pat Roberts, have also
signed on as co-sponsors.
Blunt’s bill calls for the corps to
modify existing projects for greater flood protection. It would also require
congressional approval for all river management projects in which the federal
government’s cost exceeds $75 million.
Tom Waters, a Ray County farmer who
chairs the Missouri River Levee and Drainage District Association, called it
the “the boldest and most meaningful proposal” to curb flooding since the flood
control acts passed during the first half of the 20th Century.
There’s been a decades-long debate
about the Army Corps’ management of the river, and many farmers in the region
held the agency accountable after last year’s devastating floods.
Blake Hurst, the president of the
Missouri Farm Bureau, applauded the legislation as a step forward.
“Simply put, we cannot continue to
do things the way they have always been done and expect different results,”
Hurst said in a statement. “We should use what was learned from recent flood
events and take bold steps to build a system that provides improved flood
protection throughout the lower Missouri River basin.”