Montana governor makes offer to downstream states
Friday, October 28, 2011
By MATT GOURAS
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told downstream Missouri River states Friday that they are free to adjust their flood management plans as long as they leave his state out of it.
Schweitzer said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has indicated it will change its management plan if all the states along the river agree on the solution.
States hit with record flooding earlier this year want to lower upstream reservoirs so there is more room to control runoff. North Dakota has offered to reduce water levels in its reservoirs now so there is more space for flood water in the spring.
Schweitzer has resisted such a plan, arguing it could lead to empty reservoirs when drought hits — harming recreation, wildlife and agriculture.
The governor said Friday he would support the new plan as long as Montana reservoirs are excluded.
“They can run their dams based on their forecasting, and we will just extricate ourselves from their predictions,” he said.
In a letter sent to the Army Corps and downstream governors, Schweitzer made some specific demands he argues will benefit Montana if the river’s master management plan is changed. The corps did not immediately return a call seeking comment late Friday.
Schweitzer said Montana reservoirs could never be used to refill empty reservoirs downstream when water is scarce. And he said the dams in Montana would be allowed to always offer the higher discharges needed to prompt fish spawning.
The Democrat, revisiting a contentious debate from several years ago, also said the downstream states would have to drop their demands for more seasonal water to float barges.
“They’ve thrown an offer out there, and I’ve said, ‘Sure, I will agree with you under the following conditions,”’ Schweitzer said. “Montana is not going to roll over like a fat dog so they can just scratch us on the belly. If they want to make some changes, I am going to make sure we get a fair shake out of this.”
At a meeting earlier this month, Schweitzer sparred with his Republican counterparts over the matter.
The downstream governors, who have already been warned by federal officials that damage from this year’s high water may make their states even more vulnerable next year, made it clear they want to make flood control the top management priority.
So far, $27.7 million has been set aside for repairs. The corps is waiting on funding by Congress for the rest. Early estimates have shown repairs could top $1 billion.
The corps manages the 2,341-mile-long river, which flows from Montana through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.