More than 200 people attended a Senate committee hearing in southwest Iowa Wednesday, where U.S. senators and people who live near the Missouri River wanted answers on what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can do better to manage the Missouri River Basin in the future so drastic flooding does not happen again.

Sharon Sheldon said she can’t get to her Percival home or farmland because of the flooding. She said she doesn’t like the way the Corps has been managing the river.

“We have to be proactive instead of reactive and understand where the priorities lie in that river. They should not be for fish and wildlife and other things. People and livelihoods should be the priority on the river," Sheldon said.

The Corps defended the way it handled this year’s flooding, arguing it could not have been prevented because of the large weather event that came together in March to create it: snowfall, rain, frozen ground and a rapid temperature increase.

John Remus, the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, said the Corps' operational decisions on the river’s six large dams for the last 13 months have been driven by concerns for peoples’ lives and property.

“During this critical period, our principal and sole focus has been on flood control of the system,” Remus said.

Remus said the Corps’ dams and lakes that store runoff on the river were ineffective last month because runoff entered the river below the dams.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Ia., called the hearing to collect testimony from the Corps of Engineers and people along the Missouri River and its tributaries who were affected by the flooding. 

“This is an ongoing disaster,” Ernst said. “People are hurting, the floodwaters are still in homes and neighborhoods and lives have yet to be rebuilt.”

That includes more than 700 people in the town of Hamburg in Fremont County. Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain testified in front of Ernst, Iowa Republican Sen. Grassley, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and spoke about a 13-foot high emergency temporary levee that protected the town in 2011.

“If I have to choose between what the Corps just told us and have been telling us for a long period of time compared to what the farmers and the people that live in the area and the people here who have been hurt, and hurt not just once, but several times, they would have a hard time selling that to the residents of Iowa and Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri,” Grassley said.

Grassley said he wants to get emergency funding to the Corps to fix up the damaged levees, but a lot more needs to be done.

“We’d also feel that better control of the existing dams would be a step in the right direction and that we ought to do that first,” Grassley said.

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