With parts of southwest Iowa inundated by flood waters for the second time in the past eight years, Iowa lawmakers last week called on the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to examine and adjust its policies to make sure that flood prevention is a top priority.

While the Corps is required to consider multiple interests in managing the Missouri River, the agency’s long-term management needs to put a higher priority on flood control after two major floods in the past eight years, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst said during a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., with Iowa Farm Bureau Federation leaders. She said she and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley had communicated with the Corps about the need to prioritize flood control on the Missouri River.

“We’ve got to figure it out,” she said. “Chuck Grassley and I told the Corps — floods (and) human safety needs to be priority one.”

Grassley, in a conference call with ag media, noted that he has long had questions about how the Corps manages water flows along the river to protect farmland and rural communities. The latest round of flooding, he said, means there is plenty of work to do. “We are back to square one again now,” Grassley said.

Competing interests

Farmers and others in southwest Iowa have long complained that the Corps, under pressure from environmental interests, has managed the river to slow its flow and restore habitat for endangered fish and shore birds.

Bill Northey, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, said it was important for farmers to speak up about their concerns about flood management by the Corps.

“There has to be a lot of conversations about how the whole system works and how it is managed,” Northey said last week after touring flooded areas of southwest Iowa and northern Missouri. “There are a lot of competing interests on the river, but the system was certainly built to reduce flooding.”

Last year, a federal judge sided with Missouri River farmers, landowners and businesses that changes to help wildlife have caused or contributed to flooding, including the devastating flood of 2011. The court next will consider whether residents in states in the Missouri Valley should be reimbursed for five years of flood damages.

During this year’s flooding, Ernst met officials from the Corps of Engineers. They explained that rapid snowmelt and heavy rains in Nebraska and the Dakotas were behind the current flooding.

In the immediate future, Ernst said the levees that were breached need to be rebuilt as quickly as possible to give residents peace of mind.

“That’s billions of dollars to get those levees back to where they need to be,” she said. “These levees are not going to be built before the spring rains. They’re getting ready to get flooded out again for the rest of the spring.”