Cleaver said after touring area farm fields and hearing farmer's frustrations during the flooding of 2011, he wanted to facilitate a meeting before this spring.
"They were raising issues about the Corps of Engineers and what would happen in the spring and summer of 2012," Cleaver said. "And I thought the best way to get answers was to have the Corps of Engineers come to the farmers."
The audience heard from several corps officials including Jody Farhat, Chief Resevoir Control Center, Col. Anthony Hofmann, Kansas City District Engineer of USACE and Jud Kneuvean, from the chief emergency management branch of the USACE Kansas City district.
Farhat said right now the reservoir system looks much different than it did in Spring 2011, when the record snowpack and spring rains in Montana overwhelmed the system. In late May 2011, the Corps released unprecented amounts of water from Gavins Point Dam. In Saline County, flooding continued for 122 straight days along the river.
"Overall the basin is in good condition, the risk of flooding is very low this year," she said. "But we want to remind folks especially when we get down here in Missouri, that your risk of flooding usually comes from localized rainfall."
She also said two spring rises planned for this year have been cancelled, due in part to last year's flooding and an independent science study completed last fall. The study, commissioned by the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC), found the releases were not aiding in promoting recovery of the endangered pallid sturgeon as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service intended.
Jud Kneuvean, from the chief emergency management branch of the USACE Kansas City district also briefed the audience about progress on damaged levees.
So far eight levee projects have been awarded and one completed in Missouri. The Corps approved 54 of 57 applications for levee repairs in districts from northwest Missouri to below Jefferson City. He said the three which weren't approved were below the threshold of $15,000 in damages.
He also spoke about the flood fight of 2011, and of several cases where local flood fighters, with assistance from the corps and Missouri National Guard, were able to save levees including in Carroll and Saline counties.
"We are going to continue to be aggressive in our flood fight efforts because our overall goal is to reduce damages," Kneuvean said. "If we reduce damages, we also reduce federal expenditures and we reduce state expenditures and local expenditures. As long as we can flood fight and we're not going to cause harm to others, we are going to get out and do that."
At the end of their presentation, corps officials answered several audience questions, which ranged from how the corps was helping with additional water runoff from urban areas to why hatchery-raised pallid sturgeon were not sufficient enough to take the fish off the endangered species act.
Although officials at the meeting were unable to answer that question, referring to the Fish and Wildlife service, Cleaver said after the meeting he would be looking into the issue.
"I want to get the best science that is available to convince me that they can only be protected in the Missouri River," Cleaver said.
The audience also asked questions about erosion notches placed in dikes to provide additional shallow water habitat. Several farmers have said the notches are causing their banks and levees to erode.
"Part of the recovery program along with shallow water habitat there have been a lot of structure modifications over the past years," Col. Hoffman said. "There are several hundred structures that need a lot of material placed on them. The corps has obtained a little over $19 million to repair structures and we've asked for an additional $12 million to get those back up to spec."
He said the notches "in a lot of cases will remain," but they are accessing where the damage is occurring. "Some of them we know we have to focus on," Hofmann said.
Others in the audience told the corps officials they realized they were just following the laws, but expressed frustration with the "system." One farmer said they felt the people working along the river seemed very low on the priority list compared to the environment and other river issues.
After the meeting Cleaver acknowledged the farmers are frustrated and he also expressed frustration with Congress and the current climate in Washington
"Not because the representatives are not sympathetic to what's going on, but because of the lack of civility, Congress is inhibited from addressing all of the problems that need to be addressed," he said. "We are a badly divided nation and we are putting party above the republic and nothing much is happening."
Right now it is still undecided whether Cleaver's 5th district will include Ray, Carroll and Saline Counties. Currently the redistricting plan is in the Missouri Supreme Court.
"Whether I represent the area or not I think the issues that have been raised are legitimate issues and they need to be dealt with," Cleaver said. "Some of them we have ability to influence and some of them we don't until either Congress or a court acts."
However he said he will continue to speak as often as he can on the House floor about the river issues.
Contact Marcia Gorrell at email@example.com