Protecting People and Property Along the Missouri River

Straight Talk with Sam

Record flooding in Northwest Missouri has devastated homes, businesses and livelihoods. It’s heartbreaking to see entire communities inundated with water as levees overtopped or failed. As difficult as it is, I know we’re resilient and we will get through this. However, when I was surveying the devastation in Holt County a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think, what if the priorities on the river were in line with reality? What if flood control always took precedence as I have called for on numerous occasions?

In 2004, the Missouri River Master Manual was updated to include fish and wildlife as an authorized priority for management of the river. Subsequently, the Missouri River Recovery Plan was introduced to increase the population of fish like the pallid sturgeon and with it, practices that led to multiple devastating floods. Last year, a court affirmed that thinking when they sided with landowners along the river who had been flooded.  

There’s no doubt that, once again, these management practices were less than helpful as floodwater inundated communities along the river last month and threatens to do so again. Were the Corps’ management practices the sole factor in the most recent round of flooding on the Missouri River? Certainly not. However, they likely played a role as we have seen time and time again. There’s no reason we shouldn’t fix what we can fix.

Flood control cannot become a priority only when a flood is imminent, or already here. It must ALWAYS be one of the main priorities, along with navigation, in the day-to-day management of the Missouri River. Sure, it’s in the general list of priorities, but it should be one of the only priorities, especially when it comes to the lives and livelihoods of those along the river. Yet, fish and wildlife seem to be the focus, sucking up a tremendous amount of money that could be directed toward improving flood control and navigation.

Just as I’ve done in the past, I introduced a bill this week to remove fish and wildlife as Missouri River management priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers. They simply shouldn’t be the priority when there are lives and property at stake. Flood control should be the priority, PERIOD. 

While radical environmental interests will try to stand in the way of this bill as they’ve done in the past, I’m pleased that we recently have been able to curtail some of the practices that threaten people and property along the river while purporting to create new breeding grounds for the pallid sturgeon. I was able to stop, at least temporarily, some unproven environmental practices from being implemented until it is determined whether they are causing harm. So far, it looks like these experimental environmental practices have been an abject failure—costing taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

This is a fight worth having and I refuse to back down. I’m encouraged that many of my colleagues on the state and federal level have joined me in my longstanding efforts to bring common sense to the management of the river. I believe that, together, we can work to implement sensible management practices on the Missouri River to protect the people who call Northwest Missouri home. Ensuring that we have the right priorities is a good first step.


Sam Graves