A Matter of Flood Protection Priority

A Matter of Flood Protection Priority

Missouri River stakeholders press U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for answers and solutions to the 2011 Flood disaster.

Farmers and others who make their living along the Missouri River packed a meeting room at the Holiday Inn in St. Joseph Tuesday night. They were there at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's invitation. The frustration and tension levels displayed by the group of 250 northwest Missouri residents were as high as the 2011 floodwaters that took their homes, crops, businesses, roads and jobs.  

Kathy Kunkel (center, at podium), Holt County clerk, shares details of flood damage assessments in her northwest Missouri county at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meeting in St. Joseph on Oct. 25. “The personal and economic losses are enormous,” she said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Northwestern Division, held this public meeting in St. Joseph on Oct. 25 to discuss its 2011-2012 draft Annual Operating Plan for the Missouri River mainstem reservoir system and to host a question and answer session. The latter lasted well into the night, as river stakeholders, elected officials and agricultural organization leaders gave testimony to the flood's severe impact and called for immediate action to prevent another one happening.

Kathy Kunkel, who works as a clerk at the Holt County Courthouse and is the daughter of a farmer, delivered a firsthand account of the flood devastation. Her northwest Missouri county had more than 165,000 acres of river bottom cropland under water for 100 days. Roads and railroad lines were impassable, which forced many businesses to close.

"Our people feel like they have been through a war. We are calling it 'Corps-trina," Kunkel said. "In addition to agriculture losses, we have losses to real estate, personal property, levees, roads, bridges, businesses and churches. The economic impact is enormous in Holt County."

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst was in attendance and clearly stated his organization's stand to make flood control and maintenance of the Missouri River a top priority. 

"We can only shake our heads in disbelief that annual spending on fish and wildlife habitat recovery programs is more than ten times that spent on operation and maintenance of the Missouri River itself," Hurst said.

Hurst asked corps leaders to give Missouri farmers reassurance that the levee system will be rebuilt to at least its former level of flood protection, and to do everything possible to minimize the risk of flooding next spring.  

"Unfortunately, we don't have assurances on either count," he added. "We have not been told rebuilding the levee system is the top priority. Recent actions to set up a new task force should not be allowed to delay reconstruction.  We do not need another committee or layer of bureaucracy.  If the levee system is not repaired, farmers will experience much higher crop insurance premiums next year as the possibility of flooding increases. As such, we believe the corps should pay the crop insurance premiums for farmers left unprotected until such time their levee protection is restored. This should be the case on both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers."

The corps' Missouri River draft plan anticipates that the system will reach the base of the annual flood control and multiple use pool by the end of February 2012. The annual flood control pool, which is the desired operating zone of the reservoir system, contains 11.6 million acre feet of storage and allows the corps to operate for all of the eight congressionally authorized purposes: flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, water quality control, recreation, and fish and wildlife. An additional 4.7 MAF of flood control storage is available in the exclusive flood control zones of the six mainstem reservoirs. Together, the two zones provide 16.3 MAF of available flood storage, the same amount that has been available since the inception of the reservoir system.

"The amount of runoff that came into the system this year was the highest level we have seen in 114 years of detailed record keeping," said Jody Farhat, chief of the corps' Missouri River Water Management Division. "Flood control has been the dominant force in our regulation of the reservoir system this year."

Farhat said the corps is still in floodwater evacuation mode and the next task is to continue releasing stored floodwaters between now and next spring to prepare the system to capture the runoff from melting snow on the plains and in the mountains in 2012.

Ag organization leaders in attendance said there is a proven need for a corps budget overhaul and additional flood storage in the Missouri River basin. "We cannot support an operating plan that ignores lessons learned this year," Hurst said.

FYI

A second meeting is planned in Jefferson City on Thursday evening, Oct. 26. It will be held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, 415 W. McCarty Street. An afternoon open house, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., will provide an opportunity for the public and river stakeholders to speak with corps officials on a one-on-one basis regarding the 2011 flood and plans for operating the reservoir system in 2012. The evening public meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will include a presentation from the corps followed by a question and answer session.  

A report of the 2011-2012 draft Annual Operating Plan for the Missouri River is now available on the USACE Water Management Division website at: www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/aop.html.   Written comments will be accepted through Nov. 25. Email comments should be sent to: [email protected]

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