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Des Moines Register: Sen Joni Ernst: We need better communication with Army Corps on flood risk

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen some of the best of Iowa, in some of the worst possible circumstances. From Hamburg to Davenport, and many towns in between, my fellow Iowans — our friends and neighbors — continue to cope with and recover from devastating flooding.

But it’s in these tough times that Iowans come together and lend a helping hand. And folks, I believe Congress should take a cue from Iowa. It’s time we step up to the plate and do our part to help.

My number one focus right now remains squarely on getting our communities the help and support they need. These things never used to be political, and it’s a shame Congress has failed to get its act together to finish a disaster aid package.

I’ve met directly with President Trump at the White House to discuss a way forward to get timely and badly needed aid to our communities, on top of the disaster dollars available from FEMA and other federal resources. I will continue to work with my colleagues, and the administration, to get additional aid to Iowa as quickly as possible.

It’s also important that we take a closer look at how the Army Corps of Engineers manages the Missouri River so we can consider policy changes that could reduce the likelihood and severity of future flood events.

As part of this effort, on April 17, I convened a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee field hearing in Glenwood to examine the Corps’ handling of the recent flooding. More than 200 Iowans attended and heard testimony from two Corps witnesses and several stakeholders, including two from Fremont County. These Iowans were directly impacted by the flooding and provided powerful first-hand accounts of the hardship it has caused for so many.

Following the hearing, my staff and I met with more than a dozen other stakeholders to solicit feedback. One consistent theme throughout these conversations was concerns about the lack of communication between the Corps and local levee sponsors and those in harm’s way. By the time most folks realized how serious and destructive the floods were going to be, it was too late. And as a result, grain, farm equipment, and other belongings were destroyed. With just a little more lead time, most thought they could have mitigated the damage to their property.

This past week, I articulated those concerns from Iowans directly to the Corps. In a letter signed by several other senators from states in the Missouri River Basin, I urged the Corp to immediately address the communication shortcomings brought to light during this flood event. I requested that the Corps begin providing weekly updates to all local levee sponsors in the Missouri River Basin throughout the duration of flood season. These updates are to include snowpack levels, river conditions, weather data, and other information that will help folks on the ground prepare for potential flood events. 

As someone who has been on the front lines of several major floods during my time serving in the Iowa National Guard, I can tell you that these are some of the worst I’ve seen. In times like these, Iowans come together, we care for one another, and we lend a helping hand. We’ve all seen plenty of that over the last few weeks, and it’s truly heartwarming.

It’s time for Congress to deliver disaster aid to Iowans, and I remain committed to doing everything I can to continue to help our communities and families in need during these trying times.