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Weekend open thread and news from Iowa's Congressional delegation

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 18, 2011 at 11:12:09 AM CDT


All five Iowans in the U.S. House are co-sponsoring a bill that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "to revise the Missouri River Master Manual to increase the total amount of storage space within the Missouri River Reservoir System that is allocated for flood control." After the jump I've posted more details on that bill and other news about the Iowans in Congress.
desmoinesdem :: Weekend open thread and news from Iowa's Congressional delegation
Republican Representatives Steve King (IA-05) and Tom Latham (IA-04) both serve on a new Congressional working group on managing the Missouri River. Shortly after that group's first meeting last week, King introduced H.R. 2942 (pdf) on revising the Missouri River Master Manual. The bill's 11 co-sponsors include Latham and Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03). Excerpt from King's September 15 press release:

"The severity of this year's flood shows that the Corps of Engineers' existing flood control model needs to be changed," said Congressman King. "My legislation requires the Corps to increase the amount of storage space in the reservoir system so that it will be better able to prevent serious downstream flooding from occurring in the future. The bill is a common sense solution to a serious problem, and I am grateful for the strong support it has received from my colleagues in Missouri River states." [...]

"The communities, lives and livelihoods that are affected by the Missouri River must stand head-and-shoulders above all other priorities in the Corps of Engineers' management of the river," Congressman Latham said. "Disaster preparedness, mitigation and flood control policies that protect the people and communities along the river rightfully take center stage in this bill, which will allow the voices of Iowans to be heard by the federal government and agencies in this continued discussion."
[...]
"I'm pleased the Iowa Delegation has again come together to work on flood recovery in a bipartisan fashion like we have done since the Floods of 2008 hit much of Eastern Iowa. I applaud Congressman King for introducing this legislation, which will improve the management of flood control infrastructure on the Missouri River," said Congressman Loebsack. "Iowa is now recovering from a number of severe flood incidents over the past few years, which is why I continue to push for hearings in Congress on flooding and the Corps of Engineers management of flood control structures. In addition, we also need to pass legislation to create a National Flood Center that comprehensively addresses flood prediction, prevention, response and recovery."

"I'm proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and both sides of the river, to prevent future flooding on the Missouri River," said Rep. Braley. "It's time for the Army Corps of Engineers to update its flood prevention systems, and this bill can make that happen. Congress should provide the resources to clean-up, repair and rebuild after these devastating floods, and that's what I'm fighting for." [...]

"The floods that have hit Iowa over the last few years have had devastating impacts on our state, from the crops in the field to infrastructure," Congressman Boswell said. "Politics aside, when it comes to helping affected communities and flood victims in Iowa, our delegation comes together to do what is necessary and what is needed. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers, I will do whatever I can to help move this bill forward. The flooding that we have witnessed is proof that the current flood control storage is inadequate, and we must work together to ensure that we reduce the damage caused when the Missouri River floods."

King's office prepared this fact sheet on the new bill:

King Missouri River Master Manual Revision Bill Frequently Asked Questions

What would this bill do?
This bill would require the Army Corps of Engineers to recalculate the total amount of flood control storage space within the Missouri River Reservoir System so that it is sufficient to control the largest flood experienced in the System. The bill would also require the Corps to adjust the System's two flood control storage zones prior to the runoff season each year to ensure that there is adequate space in each to prevent serious downstream flooding.

Why does the System's flood control storage space need to be recalculated?
According to the Missouri River Master Manual, the current flood control storage allocation of the System is largely based on the vacated space required to control the 1881 flood. Prior to this year's flooding, this made sense, as the 1881 flood was seen as the "high water mark" by which all other floods would be judged. However, given the historic flooding that has taken place this year, it is clear that this year's flooding now represents a new "high water mark", surpassing the flooding of even the 1881 flood. We know this to be the case because, as is mentioned above, the flood control storage space allocation of the System is designed to control an event as large as the 1881 flood. This year's flooding, though, overwhelmed the System's capacity. As such, it is important that the flood control related functions of the System management be adjusted accordingly. To do this, the Corps must recalculate the amount of storage space within the System that is allocated to flood control storage, and it must do so using the model not of the 1881 flood, but of the greatest flood experienced - the flood of 2011.

Why does this bill require the Corps to adjust the System's two flood control storage zones each year prior to the runoff season? If the bill already requires the Corps to have enough storage space in the System to prevent the largest historical flood, wouldn't the Corps automatically use that increased storage space whenever needed to prevent flooding?
It is true that the first important step in this process is to ensure that there is sufficient flood control storage space within the System to control the kind of flooding that was experienced this year. However, equally important is ensuring that this space is actually used each year as necessary. As such, this bill would require the Corps not just to recalculate the amount of storage space within the System that is allocated used for flood control purposes but also to actually manage this storage space each year to prevent serious downstream flooding.

Does this bill make any changes to the System's "Congressionally Authorized Purposes"?
No. Instead, this bill merely aims to ensure the Corps has the ability to continue to meet its responsibilities under the System's flood control authority in light of this year's historic flooding.
What are the Exclusive Flood Control Zone and the Annual Flood Control and Multiple Use Regulation Zones that are cited in the bill? The total storage capacity of the Missouri River Reservoir System is currently 73.4 Million Acre Feet (MAF), of which 16.3 MAF is currently allocated for flood control purposes. 4.7 MAF of storage is allocated to the Exclusive Flood Control Zone, the storage space of which is used exclusively to help control downstream flooding in the event of extreme flooding. In addition to the storage space allocated to the Exclusive Flood Control Zone, there is 11.6 MAF of storage allocated to the Annual Flood Control and Multiple Use Zone. The storage space of this zone is used for the capture and retention of normal and flood runoff each year. Taken together, the storage capacity of these two zones represents the 16.3 MAF of System storage space that is currently allocated for flood control purposes.

Several Iowans in Congress continue to criticize the U.S. Postal Service's planned cutbacks in this state. In August, Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin joined King in formally requesting that the USPS "delay the implementation of its plan to consolidate mail processing operations in Sioux City with a mail processing center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota." On September 15, the USPS announced that it will consider closing four other mail processing facilities in Iowa: Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Carroll and Creston. Braley vowed to "fight this bad decision"; he represents the Waterloo area and will run for re-election in a new IA-01 including Cedar Rapids. Braley also serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the USPS.

Senator Harkin says the USPS needs to show that it can save significant money by reorganizing mail processing:

"If they're going to be consolidating processing centers, fine, I just want to make sure that what they come up with is really cost savings in what they're doing," Harkin says. "Sometimes, people shuffle things around and it really doesn't save any money at all."

As part of its plan to cut $20-billion  in spending, the postal service plans to trim the number of mail processing centers from 500 down to 175 over the next year. If the Waterloo and Cedar Rapids centers are shuttered, work would be transferred to facilities in Des Moines and Davenport.

"We have to decide whether we want to keep the name, the United States Postal Service," Harkin says. "Is it a service or is it not? If it's a service, then we have to be willing to understand that sometimes services don't always break even. They don't make money. This is not FedEx and this is not UPS, this is a postal service."

Governor Terry Branstad has asked the U.S. Postmaster General to put a moratorium on closing post offices and processing centers. He has a personal interest in the issue, because he owns a dozen post office buildings in small Iowa towns. But service cutbacks appear inevitable as long as the USPS is funded primarily by postal fees rather than the federal budget.

Speaking of which, appropriations committees in the House and Senate continue to work on 2012 budget bills, even though Congress will again have to rely on continuing spending resolutions after the current fiscal year ends on September 30. The Under the Golden Dome blog noticed that the House Transportation HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, which Latham chairs, has approved legislation that would prevent future expansion of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, the Essential Air Service program supports commercial service to smaller airports around the country. Three Iowa airports are currently part of the program: Fort Dodge, Mason City and Burlington. However, earlier this year Delta Airlines applied for federal funding to support its service to Sioux City and Waterloo.

Space geeks may be relieved to hear that the Senate Appropriations Committee has (for now) preserved funding for the Hubble Space Telescope's intended successor in orbit. House Republicans have sought to eliminate funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, saying the project is "billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management."

In news related to Iowa's 2012 Congressional races, Democratic National Committee Chair and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is coming back to Des Moines the first weekend in October. She'll headline fundraisers for Boswell on October 1 and for Braley on October 2. Among the Iowa Democrats in the U.S. House, only Boswell is currently on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Frontline" list of vulnerable incumbents. He will be running against Latham in the new IA-03, which is evenly balanced politically. It's not which Republicans will face Braley or Loebsack in the new IA-01 and IA-02, which both have a slight Democratic lean.

The Story County Democrats announced a couple of weeks ago that Christie Vilsack will hold a fundraiser with a "special guest" on October 1. Vilsack is challenging King in the Republican-leaning IA-04. I will update this post if I hear more details about the mystery Vilsack guest. Her husband, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, can't campaign for her directly.

This is an open thread. What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?  

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