An independent panel that includes scientists from three federal agencies has determined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not primarily to blame for damage caused by historic Missouri River flooding last year. Critics have said the Corps should have released more water from the reservoirs earlier in the season to make room in anticipation of the flooding.
Colorado State University civil engineering professor, Neil Grigg, was on the review panel and says it’s not that simple. “To release water earlier, this means you’ve gotta have like perfect foresight what’s gonna happen down the road, in particular that heavy rain in Montana that occurred in early May,” Grigg explains.
“It’s easy to say you should have know that, you should have released that water sooner. But the truth is, nobody could have known that. It was a completely unanticipated weather event.” Grigg says snowmelt runoff from the mountains and the plains combined with the heavy rains to produce the record flood.
He says no one accurately predicted the amount of rain and melting snow that filled the Missouri River and its reservoirs. “Could that happen again, is climate change going to occur, what’s going on? Well there are plenty of people with opinions about those things, but when you look at the science of it, nobody knows for sure,” Grigg says.
The group recommends a variety of possible actions. Grigg says the Corps should examine the master manual, which lays out in detail how the river is to be managed, and consider whether changes are needed. He says the Corps may need to look at adding storage space for future flooding.
But he says the tradeoff would be less water for things like navigation and recreation.