More than 200 farmers and landowners in the Missouri River basin have filed suit against the federal government. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accused in the lawsuit of improper decisions the Plaintiffs say led to the costly flooding. The landowners claim the corps de-emphasized flood control over the past decade in favor of protecting fish and wildlife along the waterway. That choice, according to the Plaintiffs, led to floods — and an unconstitutional taking of their land. Roger Ideker, a farmer from Holt County, Mo., is the lead Plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The management priorities of the Missouri River will be an issue in the case. Under federal law, the corps must manage the river by balancing eight authorized purposes: flood control, navigation, water supply, irrigation, power, recreation, water quality and wildlife preservation. It pursues that goal by managing discharges from six large upstream reservoirs, each designed to hold excess water during the spring and release it slowly during the rest of the year. When the system works as designed, water is available for boating, fishing, barge traffic, supporting wildlife and generating electricity — while minimizing flooding.
But the property owners from five Midwestern states who filed the suit claim the corps decided in the mid-2000s to focus on just one of the uses — protecting wildlife — at the expense of spring flood control. They allege that the corps changed its rules in order to return the river to a more natural state and provide additional spawning and breeding areas for threatened species. In 2011, they contended, that choice led to the worst flooding along the upper reaches of the basin in modern history.
Congress has struggled unsuccessfully for years to reach an agreement on how to manage the Missouri River. Upstream interests seek to keep the reservoirs as full as possible to provide recreation, power and water in upper Great Plains states. Some downstream interests work to keep water in the reservoirs in the spring so there will be enough to support shipping in the summer and fall. Keeping the reservoirs full in the spring, however, means less storage for runoff. When that runoff exceeds capacity — as it did in 2011 — the corps has no choice but to release the water, contributing to downstream floods.
After the 2011 floods, several Missouri River working groups were assembled, with governors, senators and House members discussing new guidelines for the corps to more accurately address the competing concerns. To date, there has been no overall agreement. It will be most interesting to see how this lawsuit works out.
Source: Kansas City Star
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