Saturday, May 12, 2007

Breaches ease pressure -- Columbia Tribune

Breaches ease pressure -- Columbia Tribune:
"Misfortune upstream likely helped Mid-Missouri dodge big damage this week as a peak pulse of floodwater traveled down the Missouri River.

On Thursday, river watchers drastically scaled back the threat for this area, allowing many small river communities to breathe a sigh of relief. But that fortunate development came after people farther up the Missouri saw levees fail or get topped by the swollen river.

'What we’re believing is that they revised the forecast down because a lot of the smaller, non-federal levees and ag levees above them were either topped or breached, so that allows the water to spread out,' said Bob Finneran, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee inspector for the Kansas City district."
This article goes on to note that much of the flooded areas upstream were Missouri Department of Conservation bottom lands that were managed specifically "in anticipation of the ebb and flow of water." Many of these public lands were former agricultural lands that were bought out following the devastating floods of the latter years of the last century.

I have been a supporter of free-flowing, natural rivers for many years, and the scientist in me realizes that straightening out the meanders (shortening the river), deepening the channels, and confining the rivers with levees has contributed significantly to the worsening of floods. There were floods before the "taming" of the rivers, to be sure, but the rivers at least had somewhere to go.

I married into an agricultural family, so I also have a sensitivity to those farmers who lost crops in past floods, and who will continue to lose crops as long as they farm the floodplains. When you get right down to it, it is great farmland. Most of the time. What has happened to the rivers is not their fault, but they certainly pay the price for the policies of the past.

The Missouri River presents a complex issue pitting recreational interests in South Dakota against barge traffic in Missouri. Kansas grain can be shipped by rail to Kansas City, and floated the rest of the way to the mills in St Louis and along the Mississippi, and ultimately to international grain terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

But in order to float the barges, the dams upstream have to release water in the summer when it is most needed for the summer and fall harvests. This is the same time when the recreational interests need it the most. All too often recreational interests trump agricultural interests.

But the most ironic thing seems to be that the changes in river flow to support barges may have had the unintended effect of hurting the farmers in Missouri.

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