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Gov. Parson seeks new office to improve Missouri's response to floods and drought | Politics - Energy And Water Development Corp

Gov. Parson seeks new office to improve Missouri’s response to floods and drought | Politics

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson is asking lawmakers for $10.4 million to create a better way to predict and monitor floods and drought in Missouri.

Budget documents released Wednesday show his request for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to launch the Missouri Hydrology Information Center, which could help improve the state’s preparation and response to water-related events.

The call for the new agency is in response to the 2019 floods in the Missouri and Mississippi river basins, which caused an estimated $20 billion in losses.

“The magnitude of this event and the subsequent understanding that we have to approach these events differently, in part by moving from a reactive to proactive approach, has demonstrated the need for a suite of innovative approaches to ensure better flood protection and future flood resiliency in Missouri,” DNR spokeswoman Connie Patterson said.

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Although Patterson didn’t directly attribute the flooding to climate change, she acknowledged the 2019 floods were different from a devastating flood in 1993.

“Duration of flooding well surpassed that of the 1993 flood, with locations on the Missouri River in declared flood state for 279 days and on the Mississippi for close to 100 days. Further, analysis shows that we are seeing and can expect to see more frequent and intense rain events,” Patterson said.

The new office is among a handful of budget requests that have links to Missouri’s major waterways.

Parson also wants to spend $27 million in federal pandemic relief funds on a project at Columbia Bottoms, which is north of St. Louis where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet.

That project is designed to secure more than 3,000 acres of forested wetland at the confluence for additional flood storage. It also will relocate a road that was damaged in the 2019 flooding and add other features aimed at maintaining access to the river in the region.

If funded, the new center will attempt to improve the current system of measuring stream depth to provide more real-time stream level data at numerous statewide locations.

That enhanced monitoring will help forecast and communicate flood risks.

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“It will also help with the creation of flood inundation maps showing the extent and depth of predicted flood waters for dozens of Missouri communities,” Patterson said.

The maps will be designed to quickly show people flood risk and help them make decisions to ensure their safety and protect property, she added.

The center also will work on drought-related issues by improving the mapping of underground aquifers, particularly in northern Missouri, where water supplies are scarcer.

It also will expand the state’s Missouri soil moisture network to provide a better early warning mechanism for a developing drought.

The proposal is already gaining some support in the Legislature.

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who is chairman of the Senate’s budget committee, said he was reviewing the request and was encouraged by the governor’s attention to water issues.

Hegeman represents a largely rural northwest Missouri district that was heavily affected by the 2019 drought when the Missouri River topped levees, inundated roadways and kept farmers out of fields for months.

The proposed new office is one result of a special task force formed during the 2019 flood.

The working group was chaired by top state agency officials, as well as representatives of farm groups, levee districts and county officials.

The Governor’s Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group in its final report submitted in May 2020, recommended the state develop an enhanced flood-monitoring system, and that such a system should include and draw upon the expertise of various university and state and federal government partners and be tailored to the specific needs of Missouri.

Patterson acknowledged that some of the information collected by the new office may already be in the hands of other agencies, ranging from the U.S. Geological Survey to the state’s emergency management agency.

But she said the office will attempt to serve as a clearinghouse to give residents and communities user-friendly information.

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