May 10 2012
Bill to Facilitate Improved Communication between Corps of Engineers & Public
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Kristi Noem today introduced the Army Corps of Engineers Communications Accountability Act, legislation to improve communication between the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the public aimed at helping avoid the catastrophic consequences experienced in South Dakota during last year’s floods. By requiring the Corps to provide public notices when runoff is expected at high levels, this legislation will help ensure residents have ample time to prepare for potential flooding.
“Too many South Dakotans watched in horror as rising flood waters invaded their homes and businesses last year; some were displaced for months, others lost almost everything. While we can’t control the weather, we can improve our ability to prepare and respond to it,” said Rep. Noem. “My legislation creates a system of communication to facilitate increased information sharing between those that monitor our waters, our elected officials and those impacted by flooding. With better communication mechanisms in place, we will all be better prepared for weather-related disasters.”
Every year, the Corps puts together an Annual Operating Plan (AOP) of possible runoff scenarios into the Missouri River system, such as a median scenario, an upper quartile (upper 25 percent) scenario and upper decile (upper 10 percent) scenario. This legislation would require the Corps to make a public announcement within 7 days if they determine runoff will be at or above the upper runoff scenarios. This bill also gives authority to state, local and tribal governments to request a consultation with the Corps once the public announcement has been made that shall be provided not later than 7 days after receiving the request.
Rep. Noem had a number of conversations with those impacted by last year’s flooding, and lack of communication by the Corps prior to the flood was a top concern from residents from Pierre to Dakota Dunes. Residents were first warned of record releases on May 23, 2011 and began working tirelessly to protect their property. But over the course of just one week, those record release levels were doubled, giving residents limited time to effectively safeguard their homes and businesses from the rising waters.
Fort Pierre Public Works Director Brad Lawrence, who testified at a U.S. House Missouri River Flood hearing this past November regarding the flooding in South Dakota lent his support to the Army Corps of Engineers Communications Accountability Act, saying: “While the communication between the Corps, state, tribal and local governments has improved, there isn't a metric or yardstick to gauge whether that communication is responsive to the current situation on the Missouri River system. This legislation gives us that yardstick.”
Jeff Dooley, Manager of the Dakota Dunes Community Improvement District also weighed in, saying: “The short notification time coupled with ever changing data caused serious problems for local response planning. Had we been having the conference calls that we were having this spring, last year; I think we could have seen the potential problem earlier. The requirements outlined in Rep. Noem’s bill would dictate a process for proactively evaluating different runoff scenarios and making that information available to State and Local Officials.”