The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Master Manual for operating the series of dams on the Missouri River is a complex document, balancing the needs of several constituencies, but we think some modifications are due.
The Corps is tasked with managing water flows from the dams to assist in electricity generation, transportation, recreation, flood control, wildlife preservation and irrigation. The Corps also must predict the weather, from snow accumulation throughout the region, melting rates and rainfall impacts. It is not an easy job.
Even so, that doesn't mean it can't be done better. Flooding along the Missouri has taken a huge toll on people and the resources of the region, and in our opinion, must be raised on the priority list. While all river constituencies are important, we believe flood control should be increased in relative importance.
South Dakota, of course, is right in the center of the action. Four of the six dams in the system are in South Dakota, and we have strong connections to almost all the interests involving: A large portion of our state's electric power comes from the dams, river recreation affects tourism, one of our largest industries, and when flooding occurs, it hits us hard.
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The operating manual itself is rarely amended, although there are some operational decisions within the manual's framework that can be changed more quickly.
Besides the effects on the Missouri River, the operation of the dams affects the Mississippi to a very large degree. The Missouri's flow averages about 45 percent of the Mississippi's flow, and in certain drought conditions, can be up to 70 percent. So flooding downstream in states like Mississippi and Louisiana is affected by what happens at the South Dakota dams.
The actual revision of the manual and the decisions it mandates is extremely complex and arduous, something we can't address in an editorial. But we can confidently say that we believe flood control should be raised in importance among priorities.