Tag Archives: Missouri River

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — This spring’s massive flooding along the Missouri River has renewed criticism of the agency that manages the river’s dams.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says much of the water that created this month’s flooding came from rain and melting snow that flowed into the river downstream of all the dams. At the same time, massive amounts of water filled the reservoirs and some had to be released.

But many people who live near the Missouri River believe the Corps isn’t doing enough to prevent floods or is placing too much emphasis on other priorities, such as protecting endangered species and preserving barge traffic.

Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri says Congress should consider serious reforms to ensure flood control is the agency’s top priority.

“I was told point-blank, ‘Flood control is not our top priority. It is not. Period.’ They were very firm on that point,” Hawley said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Corps officials say they work to balance all the priorities Congress approved when operating the dams, but no single priority outweighs all the others. Their operating model tries to maximize the benefit to several priorities when possible.

Hawley said Congress should consider “serious reform,” such as deciding if the Corps should be taken out of the Department of Defense and placed under direction of another agency, such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of the Interior.

The Corps manages the Missouri River’s system of dams and locks and decides when and how much water is released from reservoirs into the river. The severe flooding this month in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri has renewed criticism of the Corps’ management of the river.

Officials estimate that the flooding caused more than $1 billion of damage to farms in Nebraska and Iowa, destroying stored crops and killing livestock. And the damage total will grow as floodwaters recede and other states assess conditions.

Nearly 400 farmers, landowners and business operators sued the Corps after the historic 2011 floods — and won. U.S. District Judge Nancy B. Firestone’s ruling last year determined that severe Missouri River flooding “was caused by and was the foreseeable result” of the agency’s management practices.

R. Dan Boulware, the St. Joseph, Missouri-based attorney for the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, said those management practices are still in place, contributing to the flooding this month. He said the Corps stores more water in six upper-Missouri River basins than it needs to, and has also modified structures like dikes.

“The river itself is changed,” Boulware said. “It spreads out and it doesn’t flow like it used to flow. It’s like a sluggish drain — it backs up.”

Corps officials declined to discuss the lawsuit because it is still ongoing, but they defended the way they handled this spring’s flooding. John Remus oversees the dams, including Gavin’s Point Dam, for the Corps.

“There was far more water coming into Gavin’s Point than we could hold,” Remus said.

And the National Weather Service’s Kevin Low said significantly more water poured into the Missouri River from rivers in Nebraska and Iowa with no dams, so officials couldn’t regulate the flow from those. Low said the Platte River peaked at over 170,000 cubic feet per second of water on March 17.

Most other rivers that feed into the lower Missouri crested around the same time after heavy rains helped melt lingering snowpack that flowed right into rivers because the ground was still mostly frozen.

Emergency management directors in two northwestern Missouri counties that took the brunt of this year’s flood damage have differing views on the Corps’ responsibility.

Buchanan County Emergency Management Director Bill Brinton said a dam failure to the north sent a surge of additional water into the river, worsening an already bad situation.

“That dam failed and you had billions of gallons of water,” Brinton said. “I don’t see how you can blame the Corps. But I seem to be in the minority.”

In Holt County, Missouri, 460 homes were damaged when the flood reached a foot above the 2011 record, and most are still underwater, Emergency Management Director Tom Bullock said.

Bullock’s home is among the flooded ones. He’s taken a motorboat out to it a few times but won’t know the extent of the damage until he gets inside the home.

“They told us after the flood of ’11 if you build up and elevate above this certain level it’ll never happen again, so I did that,” Bullock said. “It still wasn’t high enough. So I don’t know what the answer is. It gets pretty expensive.”

Much of the concern about the Corps’ management dates to 2004, when it initiated a management change partly to protect endangered species, including the pallid sturgeon, a seldom-seen, bottom-feeding fish.

Bullock agreed 2004 was the turning point when the Corps “started managing the river for recreation and wildlife.”

“Used to be at the top of the list was flood control first place, and navigation second place. Those two things have moved to the bottom of the list,” Bullock said.

“Ever since that happened, we’ve been flooded out regularly down here in the bottom,” he added.

He’s worried his and his neighbors’ homes will be hit again this spring.

“We don’t see an end in sight yet,” Bullock said. “All of our levees are just destroyed. We have no protection from the high river now, or spring rains. We’re sitting there exposed.”

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Rain storms expected later this week could lead to another crest along the Missouri River and its tributaries just as residents are cleaning up from this spring’s flooding.

National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Low said that more than an inch of rain is expected to fall in Nebraska and Iowa later this week.

Low says the storms between Wednesday and Friday could create a 1-foot rise in the level of the Missouri River around Omaha and cities downstream starting next weekend.

But it’s not yet clear how much additional flooding that rise could create.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Farmer Jeff Jorgenson looks out over 750 acres of cropland submerged beneath the swollen Missouri River, and he knows he probably won’t plant this year.

But that’s not his biggest worry. He and other farmers have worked until midnight for days to move grain, equipment and fuel barrels away from the floodwaters fed by heavy rain and snowmelt. The rising water that has damaged hundreds of homes and been blamed for three deaths has also taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.

In Fremont County alone, Jorgenson estimates that more than a million bushels of corn and nearly half a million bushels of soybeans have been lost after water overwhelmed grain bins before they could be emptied of last year’s crop. His calculation using local grain prices puts the financial loss at more than $7 million in grain alone. That’s for about 28 farmers in his immediate area, he said.

Once it’s deposited in bins, grain is not insured, so it’s just lost money. This year farmers have stored much more grain than normal because of a large crop last year and fewer markets in which to sell soybeans because of a trade dispute with China.

“The economy in agriculture is not very good right now. It will end some of these folks farming, family legacies, family farms,” he said. “There will be farmers that will be dealing with so much of a negative they won’t be able to tolerate it.”

Jorgenson, 43, who has farmed since 1998, reached out to friends Saturday, and they helped him move his grain out of bins to an elevator. Had they not acted, he would have lost $135,000.

Vice President Mike Pence surveyed flooded areas in Nebraska Tuesday, where he viewed the raging Elkhorn river, talked to first responders and visited a shelter for displaced people. He promised expedited action on presidential disaster declarations for Iowa and Nebraska.

“We’re going to make sure that federal resources are there for you,” Pence told volunteers at Waterloo, a town of less than 1,000 residents about 21 miles (34 kilometers) west of Omaha that was virtually cut off by the floodwaters.

(Video) On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence flew into Nebraska to assess flood damage and emergency response efforts.

The flooding is expected to continue throughout the week in several states as high water flows down the Missouri River. Swollen rivers have already breached more than a dozen levees in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The flooding, which started after a massive late-winter storm last week, has also put some hog farms in southwest Iowa underwater. The dead animals inside must be disposed of, Reynolds said.

The water rose so quickly that farmers in many areas had no time to get animals out, said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.

“Places that haven’t seen animal loss have seen a lot of animal stress. That means they’re not gaining weight and won’t be marketed in as timely a manner, which results in additional cost,” he said.

In all, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson estimated $400 million of crop losses from fields left unplanted or planted late and up to $500 million in livestock losses.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts said there have been deadlier disasters in Nebraska but never one as widespread. He said 65 of the state’s 93 counties are under emergency declarations.

In neighboring Missouri, water was just shy of getting into Ryonee McCann’s home along a recreational lake in Holt County, where about 40,000 acres (16,188 hectares) and hundreds of homes have been flooded. She said her home sits on an 8-foot (2.5-meter) foundation.

“We have no control over it,” the 38-year-old said. “We just have to wait for the water to recede. It’s upsetting because everything you have worked for is there.”

The Missouri River was forecast to crest Thursday morning at 11.6 feet above flood stage in St. Joseph, Missouri, the third highest crest on record. More than 100 roads are closed in the state, including a growing section of Interstate 29.

Leaders of the small northwestern Missouri town of Craig ordered an evacuation. The Holt County Sheriff’s Department said residents who choose to stay must go to City Hall to provide their name and address in case they need to be rescued.

In nearby Atchison County, Missouri, floodwaters knocked out a larger section of an already busted levee overnight, making the village of Watson unreachable, said Mark Manchester, the county’s deputy director of emergency management/911.

Officials believe everyone got out before thousands of more acres were flooded. But so many roads are now closed that some residents must travel more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) out of their way to get to their jobs at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska, he said.

“It’s a lot harder for people to get around,” Manchester said.

River flooding has also surrounded a northern Illinois neighborhood with water, prompting residents to escape in boats. People living in the Illinois village of Roscoe say children have walked through floodwaters or kayaked to catch school buses.

Flooding along rivers in western Michigan has damaged dozens of homes and businesses.

The likelihood of more prolonged flooding along the Missouri River increased Thursday night when the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to increase water releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota to 90,000 cubic feet per second because of inflows from the Niobrara River and other watersheds, the Corps stated.

Releases from Gavins Point quickly spiked from 17,000 cfs just a few days ago to 37,000 cfs on Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, the Corps had nearly tripled the release levels. Corps officials anticipate they will be able to scale back water releases from the dam once inflow from the Niobrara River begins to slow.

In Nebraska, major flooding remains along several larger tributaries into the Missouri River. It was a similar situation in western Iowa where the town of Hornick, south of Sioux City, was evacuated because a levee breach and tributaries in southwest Iowa such as the Boyer and Nishnabotna Rivers were significantly flooded.

Updated flood forecasts along the Missouri River by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed the river at Plattsmouth, Nebraska, was at 37.15 feet, a record high; Nebraska City, Nebraska, was also at a record high; and Brownville, Nebraska, was at 42.67 feet and could top the record high of 44.79 feet set in the 2011 flood. The river stages were already projected to top record flooding levels before Gavins Point increased its water releases.

The Corps stated operators at Gavins Point are using 12 of the dam’s 14 spillway bays and the powerhouse to pass the flows. The remaining two spillway gates are partially open, but frozen in place due to ice buildup. Operators are spilling water over those two gates in an effort to thaw them and return them to operating condition, which dam safety engineers believe presents no risk to the structure or the gates, nor does it affect the Corps’ ability to safely pass water pass the structure.

The water being released from Gavins Point is exclusively from unregulated tributaries that bring water into the reservoir, the Corps stated. On Wednesday, the Corps stopped all releases from Fort Randall Dam, the next dam upstream on the Missouri River mainstem, to reduce the amount of water in the lower Missouri River. However, because there is little storage capacity behind Gavins Point, most of what is flowing into the reservoir must be released downstream.

“Given the amount of water still expected to come out of the tributaries, we expect we will hold at 90,000 cfs through Saturday morning, provided the current inflow trends are maintained,” said John Remus, chief of the Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division in Omaha. “As that unregulated runoff decreases, we will be able to decrease outflows from Gavins Point.”

Remus cautioned, however, that river levels could remain high in places for several days to a week as conditions in the different basins normalize.

**

The “bomb cyclone” that hit Wednesday and Thursday flooded dozens of towns and cities across a wide swath of Nebraska and South Dakota into Iowa and down into northwest Missouri, shutting down much of the region outside of Omaha.

Roughly 8,000 people in Norfolk, Nebraska, about one-third of the town’s population, were asked to evacuate early Thursday morning because of risk of levee breach. In other parts of western and central Nebraska, people were being asked to evacuate in blizzard conditions.

Levees were breached and at least one dam was breached along the Niobrara River in northeast Nebraska near the South Dakota border that appeared to take out the bridge on Highway 281, a key artery. Bridges were wiped out, which shut down access to several communities.

Southeastern South Dakota, including Sioux Falls, was facing similar flooding challenges and water topped Interstate 90 west of the city. Gov. Kristi Noem closed state offices across all of South Dakota on Thursday, and the vast majority of counties in the state also shut down their courthouses because of blizzards and flooding.

**

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the storm system that can be described as a “bomb cyclone” out of Colorado caused flooding in two ways. First, the vacuum-type intensity of the cyclone led to a powerful inflow of warm air from the Gulf of Mexico into the central Plains and Midwest, causing a rapid melting of a snow cover of at least a foot deep. The ground beneath the snow was frozen from a cold, late winter and was already saturated from heavy rain last fall, so all the melted snow is now running into rivers and streams. Secondly, warm air from the south had a full load of Gulf of Mexico moisture, which resulted in rainfall of record amounts in some locations — generally 1 to 3 inches in the western Midwest, which simply added to the snowmelt and runoff.

Meanwhile, still-cold conditions in the northern sector of this storm system produced heavy snow, strong winds and blizzard conditions in the western and Northern Plains. Snow totals of more than a foot were noted. In the Northern Plains crop areas, this additional snow will add to flood potential later this spring.

**

Near Neligh, Nebraska, Kenny Reinke faced high winds and snow Thursday morning, with close to zero visibility at times, while dealing with heavy rains from the prior day and a half that caused extensive flooding throughout most of northeast Nebraska. Reinke noted one problem for the rain and runoff was that much of the ground remained frozen and was absorbing little of the moisture. Reinke said, normally, his farm can handle a typical heavy rainfall. “But in this case, it’s not so much the amount of rain, but nothing can take it in because everything is frozen. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Reinke said.

“I do have a wheat crop on a couple quarters and it was in tough enough shape as it was. This could be the dagger in it,” Reinke said. “I’m not sure how much will be abandoned. I’m also worried about some clay soil hills — the water was cutting right through roads, so there might be some gully erosion.”

Reinke added, “My heart goes out to the livestock guys, we’re in calving season right now.”

**

The livestock industry is getting hit hard with extreme weather in Nebraska, with a blizzard raging in the western part of the state and widespread flooding in the central and eastern parts of the state.

Pete McClymont, the executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, told DTN the punishing weather is creating a lot of stress for livestock producers.

“Even the best livestock managers are going to have issues in these types of conditions,” McClymont said.

First, it was low temperatures and winter weather affecting the calving season. High death loss is expected as cow/calf producers have to be present to ensure calves born outside in these tough conditions get warmed up in time so they can survive.

Now, it is dangerous flooding as heavy rains Wednesday on frozen soil pushed streams and rivers out of their banks and forced the closure of many rural roads and highways. This has created even more strain on livestock, but also on those who take care of them.

McClymont gave the example of his organization’s president, Mike Drinnin, who operates a feedyard north of Columbus, Nebraska, and Drinnin’s son, Sam, who runs their feedyard near Palmer. Sam lives away from the facility, and it took him two hours to get to their yard this morning, he said.

Farther west in the Nebraska Panhandle, a severe blizzard is raging across the Sandhills. The weather is keeping cattle producers in many cases from even checking on their livestock currently, he said.

McClymont said Thursday morning he has had multiple conversations with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts’ office, and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and its director Steve Wellman. While it is too early to know the extent of the damages from the challenging weather, the group is monitoring the situation closely.

**

Doug Ruskamp, a cattle feeder near Dodge, Nebraska, like a lot of feeders in his area, is fortunate enough his cattle are largely kept in pens on a hillside. “We don’t have much trouble with the actual flooding, but our biggest problem is our lagoons are pretty full because of all the rain and snow melt,” Ruskamp said. “Our pens are sloppy and muddy but not horribly deep, so we’re kind of fortunate that way, I guess.”

At the time he spoke to DTN, Ruskamp was sitting on a highway with area farm ground and the road inundated with water. “We’re sitting on Highway 32 just west of West Point (Nebraska) and I’ve never seen this much water here. It’s unbelievable.” Ruskamp said he has some fed cattle scheduled for delivery early next week, “but I’m glad I didn’t schedule them for this week, because I would have never got them out.”

Another area feeder told DTN workers were cut off from the feedyard and it was impossible to get some fed cattle to a packing plant because so many roads were cutoff.

**

Farther south, in northwest Missouri, Richard Oswald was evacuating his farm along the river bottom with most of the population of Atchison County, because the forecast projected a possible record crest of the Missouri River near Brownville, Nebraska, over the weekend. That risks topping the levee that protects multiple northwest Missouri towns. There were more highway closures in southeast Nebraska as well.

“I got the pickup stuck in the middle of the road just now because the roads are awful,” Oswald said. “We’re moving machinery today. Our house will be flooded if the levee breaks. It’s right in the middle of the floodplain.”