Prepared Floor Statement by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On Iowa Flooding
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
I once again come to the floor to talk about the ongoing flooding in the Midwest and particularly Iowa. Flooding on the Mississippi has gotten worse as flood protection has not been adequate in several areas of Scott County to deal with the historic water levels. Parts of the downtown area in Davenport are now inundated with floodwaters. This area includes many businesses and homes. It appears that this will be the most damaging flood in the city’s history.
Unfortunately, the National Weather Service reports that this week’s forecast is filled with rain for the whole of Iowa, which could cause additional flooding, or reflooding, throughout the state. The Missouri River could rise two to four feet depending on the location and tributary flows. And, as of right now, most of Southwest Iowa is without even minimal flood protection due to the breached, overtopped, or compromised levees caused by the unique weather system that brought record flows down the lower Missouri River earlier this year. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to fix the large breaches, but communities are threatened by even minor rain. This recovery will be long and federal resources will continue to be needed as the restoration and rebuilding takes place. I am committed to continuing to work at the federal level to help Iowa and our neighboring states through this process.
In April, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a field hearing on the Midwest floods chaired by Senator Ernst where she and I, along with other Senators, had the chance to question the Corps on its management of the Missouri River. For years I have worked with several of my congressional colleagues to make flood control the number one priority of the Corps in its management of the Missouri River. Protection of life and property should take precedence over recreation and experiments that may or may not help endangered species and the other purposes of the river identified in the Master Manual.
From 1979 until the changes in 2004, the Master Manual stated that the number one priority was flood control. Changes to the manual in 2004 made it so the Corps must balance the purposes of the river. Since that time, there has been a dramatic increase in flood frequency and floodwater levels. The river’s flood-carrying capacity has changed and there were no natural events before 2011 that could have caused these changes. I reiterate – life safety and property should be the number one priority of the Corps in its management of the Missouri River.
My colleagues and I have also heard complaints about the unresponsive Corps and the lack of communication with local residents about the floods. After the 2011 floods, some communications were enhanced. However, a lack of updated data and communication was still one of the most common complaints. As a direct result of meetings with local levee sponsors, homeowners, businesses, farmers, and other stakeholders, a group of ten Senators requested the Corps begin sending email updates to all local sponsors on a weekly basis starting within 30 days. These updates should include snowpack levels, available flood control storage in the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System, cubic feet per second release rates at the system’s dams, and flow rates in key tributaries as well as current National Weather Service precipitation forecasts and the spring flood outlook.
Today, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on Oversight of the Public Works Program. My colleagues on the committee are asking Corps leadership about flood control on the Missouri River and what emergency resources are necessary to help the Corps with the recovery process. With over a hundred of miles of levees needing repair, we know that additional resources will be needed. We also know that the State of Iowa, Iowa communities and individual Iowans will need the assistance from programs such as the Community Development Block Grant and Economic Development Administration disaster accounts.
I have been working with my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that critical funding for Iowa is provided through emergency supplemental appropriations. I filed an amendment to the disaster bill, along with my colleagues from the Midwest, to help farmers who have lost an estimated $17.3 million to $34.6 million of their on-farm stored corn and soybeans. My amendment would allow impacted Midwestern farmers to address agricultural losses not covered by crop insurance or other programs. I will continue to provide the Appropriations Committee with damage and need assessments for recovery in Iowa as we get further clarity on the actual numbers.
Furthermore, several Midwest Senators and I introduced the Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019. This bill includes a series of disaster tax relief provisions that will help American families and businesses recover from the terrible disasters that have occurred so far in 2019, including the Midwest flooding.
The disaster tax relief provisions we have worked on will reduce penalties and make it easier to access retirement funds so individuals and families can get back up on their feet faster and rebuild their lives. They also make it easier for disaster victims to claim personal casualty losses and they suspend certain limitations on charitable contributions to encourage more donations for disaster relief. For businesses affected by the disasters, this tax relief is available to help them retain employees while the business gets back up and running.
Governor Reynolds and her administration are working closely with FEMA on adding Scott County to the existing disaster declaration and on other key needs such as housing assistance for communities in Southwest Iowa who have very little existing options for people to return or stay in those communities. I have talked to Acting Administrator Gaynor about this matter and urged him to promptly work on getting this much needed assistance to those in need.
Governor Reynolds has also established the Flood Recovery Advisory Board to coordinate flood recovery and rebuilding efforts across federal, state and local levels of government. As an ex-officio member, I am looking forward to participating in these meetings to ensure the federal government is offering needed assistance to Iowans affected by the flooding.
I appreciate the stamina and determination of Iowans, many of whom have a long recovery ahead of them. This Iowa spirit will help us pull through these difficult times stronger and better.