Summer flood is still a hot topic along Missouri River
By Doug Rich
An overflow crowd filled a room at the Holiday Inn Riverfront Hotel in St. Joseph, Mo., on Oct. 25 as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the second in a series of public meetings to discuss 2011 Flood Regulation and the 2011-2012 Draft Annual Operating Plan. After enduring over 100 days of flooding this past summer most of the people in the room were not in a receptive mood.
The sincere apology from Brigadier General John McMahon, commander of the Northwest Division, was not received very well by people who had to leave their homes for nearly two months as flood water continued to rise along the Missouri River this past summer.
"What happened this summer is without a doubt regrettable, unfortunate and I want to extend my sincere apology to each and every one of you for the damage, the inconvenience, and the disruption, and the loss of livelihoods," McMahon said. "It was never our intent to do this."
Right before the Corps began their public meeting the Missouri corn Growers Association and the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council premiered a short documentary about the flood entitled "Underwater and Overlooked: Crisis on the Missouri River." The short film detailed the personal stories of several farmers and businessmen along the Missouri River in eastern Missouri who experienced the flood first hand. One of those farmers was Kevin Casner, a Carroll County farmer who lost three-fourths of his corn and soybeans crops to the flood and had to move out of his home for several weeks.
"I was out of my home for two months," Casner said. "Normally we would have stayed there, like we did in 2007, but the prediction for how long it was going to last and how deep it was going to get we figured we might as well find a place and get out."
Casner said they moved all of their belongings in 2010 to higher ground and had to move it all again this year. He said they still tried to act like farmers getting their fields ready even though they knew what was coming. He and his neighbors spent the entire summer working on the levees.
"It is bad when you pull into a 400-acre field and only haul five trailer truck loads of corn off," Casner said. "That don't pay the bills."
In his lifetime Casner has experienced floods in 1967, 1973, 1993, 1995, 2007, 2010 and 2011. In 2010 they were able to keep the water off most of their crops.
"Even after the river started receding we had sand boils to fight," Casner said. "Clear water was just boiling up out of the ground on the land side of the levee and we had a lot of major sand boils we were fighting."
Extreme snow pack combined with excessive rain in the northern reaches of the Missouri River caused flooding along the lower portions of the Missouri River this year. Even though it was a dry spring in many portions of the Midwest, the river kept rising destroying crops and towns along the way.
According to the U.S. Corps of Engineers the snow pack above Fort Peck was 141 percent of normal on May 1 and 136 percent of normal from Fort Peck to Garrison on May 1. This caused unprecedented runoff in the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa during May, June, and July.
Kevin Grode, Missouri Basin Reservoir Regulation Team leader with the U.S. Army Corps of engineers, said June was the single wettest month on record with 13.8 million acre feed of runoff, May was the third wettest single month on record with 10.5 MAF, and July was the fifth wettest single month of record with 10.0 MAF.
"Combine May through July runoff of 34.3 MAF is higher than the total annual runoff in 102 or 113 years in the period of record," Grode said.
Many of those in attendance at the public meeting believe the flooding could have been avoided if the Corps had released more water during the winter months and increased the total flood control storage.
The Draft 2011-2012 AOP assumes median runoff conditions and the flood control storage will be maintained at 16.3 MAF. The same level it maintained in 2011.
"We are headed for 16.3 MAF of flood control storage space and that was a conscious decision that was made at the end of July," McMahon said. "I don't know if that is the right number or not. It was not the right number this year but for the past 113 years it worked."
There were three reasons for picking 16.3 as the correct number. McMahon said they needed to get the water off the flood plain so people could get back on their land and into their homes to access the damage and begin repairs. In addition to that the Corps and other agencies needed to get on the levees, dams, highways, and roads to start assessment and repair work. Finally the Corps did a thorough risk analysis of these high releases for an extended period of time and decided it was an intolerable amount of risk to put more water down the system.
"I will not tell you this is the correct number but it is the number that has worked 113 out of 114 years," McMahon said.
Judging from the response from the crowd, who spent the summer fighting floodwaters, they were not convinced it was the correct number either.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.