Governors unite in push for flood control priority

OMAHA — Governors from Kansas and other states hit by Missouri River flooding pledged Friday to work together for the first time to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make flood control its top priority for the river.

The seven governors signed a letter during a meeting in Omaha that asks the federal agency to review its river management practices and recommend flood control improvements along the 2,341-mile-long river. The corps manages the river, which flows from Montana through North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he opted not to attend the meeting and has refused to sign the letter, saying the meeting was tilted in favor of downriver states that want to focus solely on flood control and navigation, at the expense of recreation and wildlife.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback acknowledged that upstream and downstream states often clash about river management, but he said this year's floods convinced most to join forces and push for flood control.

Governors are meeting in Omaha to discuss ways to avoid a repeat of this year's floods, which submerged thousands of acres of farmland, forced residents from their homes and rerouted trains and motorists. Some cities, including Omaha, spent millions of dollars trying to protect airports, water treatment plants and other infrastructure from the rising waters.

Some of the governors have said they would push for better flood control, and experts have warned that broader, long-term flood prevention will require economic sacrifices from states and a new approach to controlling the nation's longest river.

The Missouri has been overflowing for months because of heavy Rocky Mountain snowpack and a rainy spring.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls six dams along the river. Brigadier Gen. John R. McMahon, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers northwest district, also was to attend. A corps spokeswoman has cautioned against demanding sweeping changes based on one flood season.

In interviews ahead of the meeting, governors and other state officials said they expected to unite around safeguards such as levee repairs and improved river-level gauges. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said he would call lawmakers into a special session to develop a plan to repair and rebuild hundreds of miles of flood-damaged levees.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who is hosting his fellow governors, said the scale of this year's flooding should convince states to find common ground.

"I think you're going to see a more united front than ever before between the upstream states and the downstream states," Heineman said, adding that the flooding affected "homes, farms, ranches, businesses, power facilities... from North Dakota all the way down to Kansas and Missouri."