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OUR OPINION: Corps of Engineers should read writing on flood wall

Man gives Mother Nature a taste of a creamy spread. Yes, it's my "delicious butter," she says with a smile. Nope, it's margarine, the man says -- a product so good that even Mother Nature was fooled. If you've seen this classic TV ad, you remembe...

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers logo

Man gives Mother Nature a taste of a creamy spread. Yes, it's my "delicious butter," she says with a smile.

Nope, it's margarine, the man says -- a product so good that even Mother Nature was fooled.

If you've seen this classic TV ad, you remember the good lady's response:

"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," she declares, then calls thunder and lightning down.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers knows better than to mess with Mother Nature. But the Corps is inviting thunderbolts of a different sort by ignoring the storm clouds of frustration now roiling over the Missouri River.

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Along the river's length, senators, representatives and governors have joined into an extraordinary bipartisan force, and they're speaking with a loud and unified voice.

Their message: Flood protection -- not navigation, recreation or irrigation -- must be the Corps' top priority along the Missouri.

Too many thousands had to evacuate this year, and too many neighborhoods were lost for the Corps to keep treating flood protection as an afterthought, the officials have declared.

In recent weeks, the governors and congressmen gave the Corps its first chance to act on this initiative. In an unprecedented action, the governors asked the Corps to release more water now from Lake Sakakawea to prevent flooding next year.

The release would free up storage space for Rocky Mountain runoff in the spring -- storage space that the Corps needed earlier this year, when a record snowmelt resulted in the summer's massive floods.

Considering the interstate conflicts that the river's management has inspired in the past, the governors' unity is exceptional -- and exceptionally telling.

Except to the Corps, which didn't get the message:

Request denied, it told North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the other governors this week.

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The Corps should rethink this shortsighted response.

The Missouri River governors now have met twice in two months. With the exception of Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, the governors are speaking with one voice, and their message is that flood control should be the Corps' Job 1.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., has introduced legislation that would force the Corps to take that advice. The Corps plans to spend $6 million on levees this year and $73 million on wildlife recovery. That suggests "spending priorities are out of whack," Graves said

Then there is the Senate's Missouri River Working Group, a bipartisan group representing all seven Missouri River states.

"We all agree that we must work towards a river system that is focused on flood control and the protection of people and property," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in July. The group already has called for an investigation of the Corps and its flood policies.

It's not nice to anger the Missouri River Working Group. The Corps should recognize that the political winds have changed and do everything in its power to put flood protection first.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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