The governor of Montana is taking issue with seven other governors’ request to change the way the Missouri River is managed.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Monday a request from the governors from the states downstream from Montana equates to Montana emptying reservoirs every fall, to make sure there is room to capture runoff in the spring and prevent flooding.
“They’re ganging up and going to take Montana’s water and destroy Fort Peck (Reservoir) and make it a mudhole, ” Schweitzer said in an interview with the Havre Daily News.
The seven governors met Friday — a meeting which Schweitzer declined to attend — and pledged to work together to convince the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to make flood control the top priority in managing the Missouri. The governors or their representatives — North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard; Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds; Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon; and a representative for Wyoming Gov. Matthew Mead — signed a letter to the Corps requesting the priority.
“There is clear consensus that flood control must be the highest priority in the operation of the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System ..., ” the letter reads.
“We strongly request the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers thoroughly examine future management of the Missouri River in light of this year’s precipitation and flooding and report to us on alternate actions to reduce flood damage from future high flow events. ”
“We also request that the Corps provide recommendations for specific operational changes to afford greater flood protection in the basin in the future and consult with the states and tribes in selecting and implementing any changes, ” it continues.
But, Schweitzer said, the consensus did not include him.
“We’re not going to agree, ” he said. “I’m surprised North and South Dakota agreed. ”
Schweitzer said he was approached to meet with the governors to discuss management of the river, but he didn’t want an extension of previous years’ meetings. Those amounted to the downstream states asking for more water so they could be certain they could float their barges and riverboat casinos, he said.
So, Schweitzer said, he asked if there would be new ground discussed, or, “are we going to drive our tractors around on fields that already have been plowed. ”
He said he was prepared to meet with the other governors, and was preparing a Powerpoint presentation to show historic water levels in the river and reservoirs, as well as Montana’s system to track snowpack and predict water levels — Montana was preparing for flooding in March, and meeting with federal and local officials and agencies to do so then, he added.
Schweitzer said he was told he could not make the presentation.
“They said no, we don’t want any information, ” he said.
“The final straw on the camel’s back was when they announced the week of the meeting it would be closed to the press …, ” Schweitzer said. “I said, we didn’t sign your letter … you’ve already said the facts be damned, so I can’t possibly attend a meeting like that. ”
Heineman said he respected Schweitzer's opinion but disagreed.
“He could have been here today," Heineman said. "I wish he would have been here. But we (seven governors) are united. ”
Schweitzer said he will be fighting tooth and nail to keep the integrity of Fort Peck and keep water there for use in Montana. It will not work to drain it every fall and expect it to refill.
“We’ve only filled it once in 30 years, and that was this year, ” he said.
He said he is be firing off letters of his own, to the governors and the Army Corps.
“Montana and its neighbors in the basin have gone to great lengths over the years to balance the uses of this large and complex system, ” Schweitzer wrote in a letter dated Monday to Secretary of the Army John McHugh. “We should be mindful of that balance, and in the wake of an extraordinary flood year we should not overreact in ways that could be harmful to basin residents for many years to come. ”
But, he noted Monday, the governors are not in charge of the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Congress is, and I’m going to make sure Congress isn’t rolling over to them like a fat dog to get its belly scratched, ” Schweitzer said.