Ernst Bill Would Help Iowa Communities—Like Hamburg—Make Temporary Flood Protection Structures Permanent

The Iowa senator continues to fight relentlessly to provide flood relief and support to Iowa’s communities

WASHINGTON— In April 2019, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) chaired a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee field hearing in southwest Iowa where she questioned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) witnesses on their management of the river and heard from local stakeholders, including Cathy Crain, Mayor of Hamburg, Iowa who described her community’s struggles to make their heightened levee permanent. Today, Ernst is putting forward bipartisan legislation, with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), to help communities, like Hamburg, make temporary flood protection structures permanent.  

“Rural communities like Hamburg, Iowa deserve the same flood protection as any other community across the country,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “Iowa’s communities, regardless of their size, should be able to get the flood protection they need, and our bipartisan bill helps them do just that.”

In emergency situations, the Corps has the authority to construct temporary flood structures. In 2011, it raised the levee protecting Hamburg by about 8 feet to improve the town’s defenses against flood waters. This temporary improvement helped withstand the flood waters, but Corps policy dictated that the structure had to be either taken down or built to Corps specifications—at a cost to the town. Because Hamburg could not afford to make the levee permanent, it had to be removed.

The Local Expertise is Vital for Effective Embankments (LEVEE) Act gives the Corps the authority to review whether temporary flood control structures should be made permanent. In making these determinations, the Corps is directed to consider the likelihood of needing to construct a similar structure in the future, and the economic and safety benefits of making the structure permanent. The legislation also allows the local cost share for making the structure permanent to be waived for communities with populations less than 10,000, or that are financially disadvantaged or at risk from recurring flood events.

Background

At an oversight hearing earlier this year, Senator Ernst questioned Corps officials on the recovery effort and their river management policies in the wake of the March flooding in Southwest Iowa, specifically with regard to repairing and rebuilding the levees that were compromised.

Senator Ernst has also pushed the Corps to put a greater emphasis on flood control and give Iowans more of a voice in the decision-making process and is a cosponsor of two bills to prioritize Iowa communities in the eyes of the Corps—one that would make flood control the top priority for the Corps’ management of the Missouri River; and another to create a civilian advisory council to give Iowans a direct say in the Corps’ decision-making.

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