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Science & Environment

Army Corps Of Engineers On Midwest Flooding

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The late-winter flooding in the Midwest and Plains states continues this weekend. Busted levees, submerged towns and farms - Nebraska is looking at $1.4 billion of damage; Iowa, $1.6 billion. We're joined now by John Remus. He's chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mr. Remus is in Omaha. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN REMUS: I'm glad to help out.

SIMON: What do you expect as the weekend goes on?

REMUS: Well, we're expecting that the remaining snowpack in the North Dakota and South Dakota will begin to melt. And you're going to see another uptick or upswing of the flows coming out of the southeast - southeastern South Dakota tributaries, which will provide another boost to the river downstream of Sioux City, Iowa, but not as high as the one we saw earlier this week. So the flooding is certainly not going to be over on the Missouri River for the next several days, but it should be as bad as it has been the last few days anyway.

SIMON: So the conditions will persist for several more days at any rate?

REMUS: Yes, yes.

SIMON: You and the Army Corps of Engineer regulate the flow of the Missouri River through a series of dams. And as I'm sure you know, this week Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa questioned why flood prevention hadn't been the top priority in managing the river. Can you help explain what the priorities are and where flood prevention fits into that?

REMUS: Well, we have eight authorized purposes, and flood control is one of those authorized purposes. When we get into a situation like we had this weekend, flood control is the priority here. What happened with this particular flood is that it is produced from runoff from tributary streams that come in below our large storage reservoirs up in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. All of this entered down into the Missouri River and really the lower basin, which we had almost no ability to control that flood.

SIMON: Mr. Remus, I know you've got a specific job to do and have to stay above the fray, but all over the world, there seem to be these lifetime weather events that are occurring not just once in a lifetime but every year or so. Do you feel flooding like this is in the future for the American Midwest?

REMUS: I really couldn't answer that question. I think we've been in a wet cycle for a few years in the Missouri River Basin, but I don't - I couldn't say that this is a new normal or whether it's just a wet cycle. I really couldn't say one way or the other.

SIMON: But wasn't there intensive flooding in 2011, too?

REMUS: Yes, there was. And that was a completely different type of flood. An enormous amount of mountain snow water combined with some very large rainstorms and most of that water came, you know, from the upper basin down through Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, so it's a completely different type of flood.

SIMON: If resources were more generous, if not unlimited, anything more that your agency could do?

REMUS: Well, I think that as a agency as a whole, I think we could revisit some of our flood control projects, levees, flood control projects in some of the tributaries. But I don't think there's anything that anybody can point to right now that says we need to build this project or modify this project in any certain way that would solve this particular problem or any of the problems that may be in the future. I don't think that anybody has the answer, but there's certainly some things that we could look at.

SIMON: John Remus of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha - thanks so much for being with us, sir.

REMUS: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.