BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Two U.S. senators who symbolize disagreements between upstream and downstream states over management of the Missouri River say last year's historic flooding was a unifying moment.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., toured dams and levees along the river on Tuesday and Wednesday. Their home states have long battled over whether the river should be managed to benefit upstream recreation or downstream navigation, but the flooding last summer has put flood control at the forefront of priorities.
"That was certainly a unifying moment we hadn't had on the Missouri River before," Blunt said.
Hoeven and Blunt say they are working in the Senate to initiate a new era of cooperation among Missouri River states to improve flood control and river management. The two last year helped form a working group of senators from Missouri River states and also worked on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help secure hundreds of millions of dollars for Army Corps of Engineers flood recovery efforts.
"Flood control is the No. 1 objective," Blunt said Tuesday while he and Hoeven toured the Garrison Dam in North Dakota, where about $52 million in repairs are scheduled to be done by the end of the year. "This funding is to be ready for the next flood.
"We appear to be fortunate this year that we're not having to deal with water that was well outside the norm last year," he said. "That year's coming again. We just don't know when."
The 2,341-mile Missouri River flows from Montana through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. It is managed by the corps, which estimates that flooding last year due to excessive spring snowmelt and rain caused $630 million in damage to levees, dams and channels built to control the river.
Hoeven and Blunt said a better understanding by Congress and the corps of how the river system's components work together can help river managers meet the challenges of flooding and the needs of residents both upstream and downstream. Besides recreation and barge navigation, river uses include everything from irrigation to hydroelectric power generation.
"What Sen. Blunt and I are trying to do is create better coordination and a better relationship between the upstream and downstream states," Hoeven said.
Top corps officials accompanied the senators on the tour, which took officials to Montana later Tuesday and to sites in the lower basin on Wednesday.