Monday, June 06, 2011

The river will win...

That's my bet, anyhoo. Missouri ag is incensed at the idea of leaving the blown Bird's-Point levees open.

Three Southern Illinois University professors have written a letter to President Obama asking him to leave the Birds Point Levee breach open, turning 130,000 acres of productive farmland into a permanent wasteland, er, wetland.In my view, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should rebuild the Birds Point levee if only to spite these three self-important individuals, who either don’t know, or don’t care, that they are rubbing salt in a very fresh wound and offending every hard-working farmer in America.Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation had this to say about the trio of egotists. “Those of us who remember the great flood of 1993 can write the script from here; environmental groups will use Mississippi County’s misfortune to attempt a land grab of massive proportions. “The professors, without bothering to provide any evidence, claim that 200 square miles of fertile farmland would better serve mankind as a swamp, instead of producing food the world so desperately needs. I’m not sure how big the ‘I Miss Malaria Caucus’ is, but it’s imperative we drown this foolish idea in its infancy. The levees must be repaired as soon as it dries enough for dirt to be moved.”Hurst noted that professors “are not only deluded, but self serving as well. The lack of concern they show for the families affected by the flood is breathtaking, the arrogance shown by their cavalier disregard for the efforts of generations of farmers is shocking. People are suffering, and the best that the academics can do is to propose a plan that will make the suffering permanent.”Hurst says the U.S. government “has a moral obligation to help those in the path of this man-made flood. The levees must be repaired, the ground must be restored, the roads, bridges, and homes replaced. [More]
The problem here is arrogance all right, but it's spread pretty evenly around. "Moral obligation"? This is the heady language of entrenched entitlement. It certainly captures the expectations from government
of many farmers, but whence does this "right" arise?
Let me see.  Public money pays for the levees, subsidizes the crops, and then covers the insurance claims. Is there no amount of dollars that would be undeserved? I doubt Blake would see it that way.
But the real problem is simply being ignored: the water's gotta go somewhere.
But the problem is one no one should be surprised about, experts said, and there is no easy solution.The leveesThe very things that protected Vidalia and thousands of other river residents up and down the Mississippi last month — levees — are part of the problem, according to Karen O’Neill, associate professor in the human ecology department at Rutgers University and author of a book focused on flood control, “Rivers by Design.”“The question is always ‘Where can the water go?’” O’Neill said.If levees force rising waters into a smaller area, she said, the water rises only within that area.“At some point, it’s just a question of volume,” O’Neill said. “Levees closer to the river give the river less room to spread at flood time.”Historically, she said, people built their houses on relatively higher land and planted crops in the low areas, taking the risk that those areas would be flooded at times whether they were protected by the levee or not.Now, though, as the design of levees becomes more advanced, O’Neill said, there’s a temptation to build them closer to the river to protect farmlands.“Private individuals and county and state government cut off some of the historic natural outlets, (as well),” she said. “The floodways that have been built since then do not replace the functions of these outlets.”Franklin Heitmuller, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of Southern Mississippi said, too, that levees are part of the problem.“The bad comes with the good,” he said.“Flood-control levees are absolutely critical in this day and time to protect lives, communities and properties,” he said. “If (the levees) were absent — or poorly built — we would have a big mess on our hands.”However, Heitmuller said, unintended problems arise.“At locations where flood-control levees reduce the area (for floodwater), the floodplain can build up more rapidly than would otherwise be expected if floodwaters and sediment were distributed across a larger area,” he said. [More]
Finally, let's submit that demand for farm output to  a little economic cost-benefit analysis. What if the public is paying more to serve farmers than they get back in commodities? And let me guess - these farmers are also outraged at the size of the federal debt and deficit.

I suspect it will take a few more outsized floods from now familiar heavy rain events for this new axiom to be accepted by bottom-land farmers. With the riverbed now above the surrounding cropland in many areas, artificial efforts to contain it simply raise the potential for ever more catastrophic failures.

Given a close race in some MO Congressional seat, the levees will likely get rebuilt. But my money is on the frequency of these events increasing dramatically. And the flooding to be worse as a result of a narrow view of what is "moral".


Anonymous said...

I agree John. As we go forward into the future, will heavy precipitation events stress the Missouri river dam system so that huge water releases have to become more frequent and more costly? There may actually be a need for additional places to put all of that water in heavy precip years. The water has to go somewhere and someone's farm may be just the place.

Anonymous said...

Here in central Nebraska we are not allowed to use any of this surplus water to irrigate any dryland acres. The Game and Parks Comission has a blanket "right" to all water in the state and must keep adequate supplies (what ever that is) for the Palad Sturgen and the Least Turn. So instead of using that excess water to irrigate our farm we send it down the river to flood someone else's farm. Gov't at it's best.

Anonymous said...

Cen. Nebr: Just remember that government was responsible for public power and the electricity so you could pump the water to raise corn out there in the first place. Does the name Senator George Norris ring any bells? The current fad of complaining about government doesn't change the fact that Great Plains ag owes its very existence to government.