The summer-long flooding will be the primary topic of talks as members of the seven-state coalition that tackles Missouri River issues open their fall conference today in South Dakota. Mike Hayden is executive director of the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes, or MoRAST.

Hayden says the months of flooding in the basin caused tens of millions of dollars damage. Hayden says, “The states will be anxious to hear from the Corps of Engineers, what their plans are, particularly next year’s annual operating plan to make sure adequate flood protection and flood plain management is included in the upcoming operations.”

Most of the governors from states in the basin met last month in Omaha and agreed flood control should be the highest priority of the Corps of Engineers in managing the river. Hayden says while that resolution is fine, it’s up to Congress to direct or re-direct the Corps.

“Congress set out the authorized purposes and they did not, when they set that out in 1944, prioritize those purposes, and of course, a lot of things have happened in the basin since,” says Hayden, a former Kansas governor. He notes, plenty of court cases have focused on the actions or in-actions of the Corps over the decades.

“Judges have ruled that flood control and navigation should be the priorities,” Hayden says. “I can understand where the governors are coming from, but if they want the priorities to be prioritized, really, that’s an issue for the Congress.” Some U.S. senators and representatives have formed working groups to examine this year’s widespread flooding.

Hayden says the river basin should get that type of attention all the time, not just when it’s flooding. States involved in MoRAST are: Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. The conference is underway in Rapid City, South Dakota, through tomorrow.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton