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ND residents join Missouri River flood lawsuit; runoff high this summer but no flood worries

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — Some North Dakota residents have joined landowners from five other states in a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over Missouri River flood damage from previous years.

More than 200 landowners from South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri filed the lawsuit in March over flooding from 2011 and other years when there was considerable damage. Additional residents from North Dakota are expected to join after informational meetings in Bismarck this week, Eddie Smith, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said Thursday.

Runoff continues to be above normal in the upper Missouri River basin after a wet early summer, but it isn't leading to any new flooding concerns.

People face a Sept. 19 deadline to join, said Smith, with the Polsinelli law firm in St. Louis.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of damages for property owners who suffered damage but received no compensation from the federal government.

Peter and Judy Masset, who were forced from their rural Mandan home for about two weeks in 2011 and had to pump water continuously for three months to save the home, are one couple who plan to join. Judy Masset said Thursday that the lawsuit isn't just about being compensated for damage but also about getting the corps to make flood control a priority.

"It's about protecting landowners, farmers, businessmen, communities," she said. "We're all on the river. We need flood protection."

The federal government has said the corps should not be blamed for major flooding on the river because the management system does not guarantee a flood-free zone. The river is managed for a variety of uses, including barge traffic, hydropower, recreation and wildlife habitat.

Runoff above Sioux City, Iowa, this past July was 33 percent above normal, and runoff for the year is forecast at 29 percent above normal, according to the corps.

"Although July precipitation was below normal in the upper basin, high stream flows persisted in some areas due to very wet conditions in June," Jody Farhat, chief of the corps' Missouri River Water Management Division, said in a statement released Wednesday. "Runoff from the remaining high elevation mountain snowmelt also contributed to the above-normal July runoff."

The reservoir system still has three-fourths of its flood storage capacity available. Water in flood control zones will be released during the rest of the year to serve water supply needs and downstream navigation, Farhat said. The corps earlier announced a full-service, eight-month navigation season downstream. Full service means a channel 9 feet deep and 300 feet wide.

"Gavins Point Dam releases (in South Dakota) will be adjusted as necessary to meet full-service navigation targets and prepare the reservoir system for next spring's runoff," Farhat said.


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