USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has taken the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to task for its handling of the Missouri River in a letter questioning its decision not to release more water from dams earlier in the spring to prevent prolonged flooding this summer. The river is near historic flood levels along the more than 800 miles it stretches from the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota to its confluence with the Mississippi River.


More than 560,000 acres in seven states have flooded, including nearly 447,000 acres of farmland, Vilsack spokesman Justin DeJong says. The flooding followed unexpected spring rains and the melting of a deep snowpack in the Rocky Mountains.


Vilsack outlined his concerns in a three-page letter sent to Major Gen. Meredith W.B. Temple, the acting commander of the Corps, and obtained by The Associated Press. Although Vilsack said he wasn't in a position to judge how the Corps handled its dams, he asked pointed questions about the agency's decision not to release more water earlier and criticized it for not providing farmers and ranchers with more up-to-date information. His comments add to a growing chorus of officials questioning the Corps' handling of the situation.


U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), announced recently that a bipartisan group of 14 senators from Missouri River states has requested a Senate hearing on the Corps' management of the river, and the AP obtained a letter earlier this week in which Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad expressed frustration with the Corps even before the latest flooding and urged the governors of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska to join him in discussing the formation of a new group of downstream states.


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