North Dakota’s governor is suggesting the Army Corps of Engineers take action this fall to lower the level of a federal reservoir in his state, as a preparation for potential flooding along the Missouri River next year. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple unveiled the idea in Omaha during a meeting of the eight governors from states along the Missouri River. 

“(The) National Weather Service says we’re going to have more snow…We know that the ground is saturated down through the valley. We know that the levees are at a weakened condition,” Dalrymple says. “That calls for an adjustment.”

Dalrymple suggests lowering the level of the reservoir behind Garrison Dam, which is north of Bismarck, North Dakota, by two-and-a-half feet. The idea came from the state water engineer in North Dakota.

“He’s comfortable that because of the relatively dry fall we can easily move an additional 10,000 cubic feet per second out of that area for 38 days and create some significant additional storage before the river freezes up,” Dalrymple says.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman says this idea could help take some pressure off Missouri River levees.

“We’ve gone through this one-in-500-year event. We clearly have more water right outside behind us in the Missouri River than we normally have,” Heineman says. “Our grounds, our lands are saturated, so it’s not going to take as much moisture to get right back to where we are, so we’re all concerned about what additional steps can we take.”

According to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, governors up and down the Missouri usually have “sharp opinions” about how to manage the river, but Brownback says this idea has broad support among the governors.

“This is a situation where inches matter and anything we can do to purchase a little bit of insurance, hopefully on the cheap, to provide for a weakened system would be an important thing for us to do,” Brownback says. “And that’s why we’re urging the Corps to do it.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says it seems as if the region is in the midst of a “wet cycle” and it’s time to make changes in the Missouri River’s management to address that reality.  

“I think we’re in unanimity that we don’t want to have happen again next year what happened this year — a flood of this extent that lasts this long,” Branstad says, “and having more storage as well as repairing the levees as quickly as they can be (repaired), those are important things to do.” 

The governors in the region want congress to launch an “independent” investigation of the Army Corps of Engineers plan for managing the Missouri River basin. The governors also say that plan should make flood control a higher priority.  

AUDIO of 25-minute news conference in Omaha (feedback that starts at one minute mark ends 40 seconds later).