Glenwood, Iowa -- A bipartisan group of US Senators pushed Army Corps of Engineers leaders on Wednesday to explain why western Iowa is again underwater thanks to Missouri River flooding.
Iowa Senator Joni Ernst convened a filed hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in Glenwood. Ernst was joined by fellow Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley, Kansas Republican Jerry Moran and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in conducting the hearing. Maj. General Scott Spellmon and John Remus with the Army Corps of Engineers were called to testify about flood preps along the Missouri River.
Senator Ernst began the hearing by questioning the priorities of the Army Corps in the area. Ernst says Iowans are telling her the Army Corps is focused more on recreation that flood control. "A lot of concerns I've heard from residents in this stretch of the river is that fish and wildlife seems to have a higher priority than flood management," Ernst said.
But Remus, Chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, says that's simply not the case. " "Our priorities are set by the runoff," Remus said, "In high runoff years flood control is there. We've been in flood control operations for the last 13 months. We will probably be in flood control operations for the rest of this year and the next couple."
Spellmon told the Senators that no matter what happened in the months and years before this Spring, this flooding event would still have happened. "The meteorological event that came in that put rain on top of snow on frozen ground quickly overran the tributaries and frankly overwhelmed the design capacity of the levee system," Gen. Spellmon told the Senate panel. He says even if the river bed had been empty it still couldn't have held all of the water than ran off during March thunderstorms.
Senator Gillibrand, who is in Iowa holding presidential campaign events as well, says she doesn't buy the Army Corps' responses.
"It's been 22 years that they've been trying to restructure the protections around these communities and they haven't done it," Gillibrand told Channel 13's Dave Price, "We've authorized over a billion dollars of Army Corps of Engineers projects that would make it possible to protect Iowans and our farmers." Gillibrand says the problem has been exacerbated by the Trump Administration. She says the Trump White House uses a formula based on property values to determine where money is spent, and unfortunately the Missouri River region doesn't meet qualifications.
Gillibrand and fellow Senate Democrat and presidential contender Cory Booker both also defended their vote against a bill that would have provided millions for flood relief. They both say they prefer to support a bill that would also provide billions in funding for ongoing recovery from hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.
Booker says Republicans need to stop playing politics with disaster relief. "I think all of us should get sophisticated enough, people on both sides of the aisle, that when someone comes to town and starts pointing fingers, throwing stones, it says more about them than it does about the earnest desire to really reach out and solve problems.