Is the Corps of Engineers forcibly reverting floodplain to its natural state?

Guest post by Alec Rawls

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That’s the eye-popping thesis suggested by Joe Herring at American Thinker, and his prima facie evidence, while thin, is also hard to get around. The key fact is this:

On February 3, 2011, a series of e-mails from Ft. Pierre SD Director of Public Works Brad Lawrence sounded the alarm loud and clear. In correspondence to the headquarters of the American Water Works Association in Washington, D.C., Lawrence warned that “the Corps of Engineers has failed thus far to evacuate enough water from the main stem reservoirs to meet normal runoff conditions. This year’s runoff will be anything but normal.”

For the why, Herring quotes the Corps’ Master Water Control Manual:

Releases at higher-than-normal rates early in the season that cannot be supported by runoff forecasting techniques is inconsistent with all System purposes other than flood control. All of the other authorized purposes depend upon the accumulation of water in the System rather than the availability of vacant storage space. [Emphasis added.]

Originally, these other purposes were water supply, river navigation and recreation, none of which are served by failing to leave enough reservoir space for normal runoff in a high runoff year. But through thirty years of environmentalist domination of the federal bureaucracy, additional purposes have gained ever higher priority. The Missouri River should be “natural”:

The Clinton administration threw its support behind the change, officially shifting the priorities of the Missouri River dam system from flood control, facilitation of commercial traffic, and recreation to habitat restoration, wetlands preservation, and culturally sensitive and sustainable biodiversity.

Herring even quotes a Corps biologist celebrating the current flood:

The former function of the river is being restored in this one-year event. In the short term, it could be detrimental, but in the long term it could be very beneficial.”

Sherlock Holmes’ method of exclusion

The direct evidence here is merely suggestive. “Habitat restoration” is a high priority goal and there is a bit of overt cheerleading for flooding. Far from conclusive, but how else to explain not vacating even a normal amount of reservoir space in a peak snowpack year?

Climate contrarians know to be wary of argument by the principle of exclusion. That’s what the CO2 alarmists do. Eyes wide shut to extensive evidence that 20th century warming was caused by an 80 year grand maximum of solar-magnetic activity, they claim warming has to be due to CO2 because every other possible explanation has been ruled out.

But in The Case of the Waterlogged Corps(e), Sherlock’s method of exclusion is reasonable. The usual problem of failing to identify all the possibilities doesn’t apply because the list of agency objectives is specified. Of these, “habitat restoration” is the only one that is served by the Corps’ actions.

The other possibility is that these government functionaries failed to notice that they had not vacated even the usual amount of space from their reservoirs, but low as expectations are for government work, this isn’t really plausible. Such a mistake would have to be motivated, and as Herring points out, we know these people’s motivations. Almost to a man they are eco-leftists, and we know the eco-leftist position on rivers.

It isn’t the dot-connecting that is outlandish, it is the dots. People who expressly want to see floodplains returned to their natural state followed policies that guaranteed massive flooding. Herring is right: this calls for investigation.

Rational environmentalism

To the extent that risk of flooding can be lowered by flood-control infrastructure, the extra building on floodplains that this risk-reduction encourages is perfectly rational. What induces irrational building on flood plains is the federal government’s longstanding policy of providing subsidized or implicit flood insurance.

After major flooding the government is prone to declare a disaster area. Even if the flood victims are not made whole, their losses are substantially mitigated, reducing the natural disincentive to build in flood zones. Get rid of this market interference and flood damages would be much diminished. In particular, flood plains would end up relegated mainly to agricultural uses that can weather occasional flooding with limited damage.

Seasonal flooding can actually be good for farmland so there is room for a win-win solution where flood control systems are set up to inundate large agricultural bottom lands as necessary to provide room for floodwaters. Instead of farmland on the outside of our riparian cities, substantial amounts of the best farmland would be on the inside of these cities. We see some of this now, but it would go much further if the government limited itself to infrastructure and did not interfere in markets. Safer for people, better for farming, better for migratory birds and the environment, and better for taxpayers.

Not easy to get there, after people have been building on the strength of government promises of relief for many decades, but it is a solution that is rational both economically and environmentally. Unfortunately, this is not what the eco-freaks want.

Instead of “natural” in the market-driven or liberty-driven sense, they embrace a sans-human naturalism, and it looks like the administrators of our flood-control infrastructure are in this camp. They have been hostile to flood-control infrastructure per se since the Clinton era, which is the only obvious explanation for why this infrastructure has been so completely misused.

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86 Responses to Is the Corps of Engineers forcibly reverting floodplain to its natural state?

  1. wayne Job says:

    Disturbing to say the least, in Australia of recent times mandated environmental flows have been released on flooded rivers inundating communities, green lunacy.

  2. stephen parker says:

    watergate

  3. rbateman says:

    The same thing is happening in California. You get conflicting statements that leads one to conclude that in case of emergency, too bad. The reservoirs this season are chock full, and plenty of snowpack is still up there. One big summer rain event and many dams will fail. They will attempt to panic dump. That is their M.O.
    One also sees a similar “it’s natural” thinking when it comes to our National Forests. Eco-groups insure that there is fuel for the next years burn by blocking salvage & restoration.

  4. Jack says:

    Same thing in the Brisbane floods in Australia. The flood mitigation dam was turned into a storage for 2 reasons. The left wing Labor party dictated to by the even more left wing greens refused to build new dams. Their excuse – that CAGW was so severe there would be not enough rainfall run off to ever fill the dams again.They weaseled in the word, might, but in fact convinced the government to build a billion dollar desalination plant.
    2nd,they found once there was a scarcity of water controlled by them, the government could charge whatever they liked to buy their way back into power. Insurance companies are not paying out because evidence seems to indicate the height of the flood was man made.

  5. Roger Knights says:

    This failure to act would be in-line with giving priority to the snail-darter, etc., over humans. An investigation would make things awkward politically for the eco-left and the administration that coddles them, so House GOP committees should schedule such a look-see.

  6. boballab says:

    Why does this sound similar to what happened in Australia not to long ago:

    Forecast ignored before the floods

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/forecast-ignored-before-the-floods/story-fn59niix-1226068463809

  7. Sean says:

    There are zoning laws. If government agencies zone it as constructable, there is an implicit engagement to keep the land dry. If the zoning agencies and flood control agency do not exectute the same policy, it is a failure in government and it is normal government pays for its failure. The real question is who broke the ruies and how they can be brought to account? Clearly there is a lot of money be made making land constructable. So there is scope to have direct corruption. If the water authority is not applying or not able to apply the approved zoning policy you need to fire the bosses and put in folks who get the job done. The only excuse for not compensating bad governence is if the land owner was paying off the zoning authority. If you want to remove the insurance cover you need to compensate as you are walking away from the engagement you implicity gave with the construction permit. If government fails you need to fire some folks or put folks in prison not punnish home owners how acted on the permits delivered.

  8. Paul Nottingham says:

    Would a class action be useful here? I’m sure that some lawyers would oblige.

  9. Sean says:

    The Frensh government investigated after recent major flooding and found that many permits had been delivered is flood plains by towns who had a economic interest. The national government payed up, but then made the land non constructable. As a general rule, if it floods you should not be rebuilding in the same spot.

  10. John Marshall says:

    Habitat restoration sounds all well and good but it must benefit ALL. Including humans. It does the human population no good to be placed below that of animals and insects.

    The Army Corps of Engineers need to be reminded who pays their monthly salaries. It sure as hell ain’t the insects.

  11. Frosty says:

    Rational environmental practice, to control flooding, would start at the watershed for a particular bio-region.
    The idea is to keep as much water in the landscape as possible (as opposed to allowing it to run off quickly) by heavily planting trees and shrubs down the sides of every water course right up to the watershed. Every stream, creek, and water channel from the watershed down would have multiple gabions (rock filled cages acting as a leaky dam) to slow the water and keep it in the landscape as much as possible. The valley sides of every creek would be keyline ploughed where possible (one pass with a Yoemans plough on contour , a bit like a mole plough) to encourage water flow to spread across the contour instead of running 90 degrees to contour, keeping it in the landscape as long as possible. Earth dams would be installed wherever suitable too. If all these works were carried out, you could have some reinstatement of the flood plain with minimal flood event disruption. Without these works in place, if you try to reinstate the floodplain, you get what we see here, flood disaster.

    In effect, besides reducing flood frequency, these works would also increase drought tolerance for the whole bio-region.

    I am aware that there was a design done along these lines for the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi bio-region some years ago, I think it was rejected as too costly, it was never enacted.

  12. CynicalScientist says:

    Perhaps the Army Corps of Engineers thinks that when the inevitable happens, the finger of blame will be pointed not at them, but at `climate disruption’.

    Being cynical however, it occurs to me that there is probably nothing as good as a really big flood to whip up a bit of a panic and assure continued funding for flood control from a reluctant congress. The trick of course would be in managing to engineer a nice big flood without being blamed for it. But with so many people so desperately eager to blame every adverse weather event on climate disruption right now, I suspect that won’t be difficult to do.

  13. Tom says:

    Interesting! I hope this blog will follow this issue. I live in up-state NY so flooding is not a major problem and I never thought about the political ideological dimensions of flood control.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  14. Speed says:

    Upstream they want to restore the floodplains and remove the people but downstream they want to restore the levees so people can move back into New Orleans.

  15. This idea of deliberate flooding fits in with the Agenda 21 Wildlands Project:

    http://www.freedomadvocates.org/articles/wildlands_project/

  16. Dixon says:

    Now here’s one of those situations where we really could control nature – or at least mitigate its’ worst excesses; and again we find the governance around the decision making processes just isn’t up to scratch. Get floodplain management, bushfire mitigation, earthquake mitigation or tsunami mitigation right and I’d believe that when* someone has some convincing evidence of AGW, it’s worth figuring out what to do about it. All the former trump AGW easily when it comes to risk. It would be interesting to compare academic endeavour and government expenditure in those various fields, I suspect AGW would win easily.
    *Not expecting that anytime soon…

  17. James Bull says:

    The EA (Environment Agency) has been up to similar tricks in the UK suddenly stopping repairs to coastal defences which have been in place for in some cases centuries. This is to restore the natural, but the UK has had mans mark on it for millennia,and of course none of those responsible for this “fuzzy” thinking will live in the at risk areas!

  18. wolfwalker says:

    “The other possibility is that these government functionaries failed to notice that they had not vacated even the usual amount of space from their reservoirs, but low as expectations are for government work, this isn’t really plausible. ”

    Why not? Remember, we’re talking about the Army Corps of Engineers, and specifically the Mississippi Valley division — possibly the least competent division of the least competent unit in the whole United States armed forces. If you really still trust the ACE to get water management right, I suggest you read Marc Reisner’s book Cadillac Desert, and follow it with some accounts of the disaster the ACE made of New Orleans’ levee system.

    As for the linked American Thinker article, there’s at least one provable mistake in it. Herring claims that: “The Missouri River Recovery and Implementation Committee has seventy members. Only four represent interests other than environmentalism.” To support this, he provides a link to a current list of committee members. Problem is, that link refutes his own claim. Of the 67 listed members, at least half represent “interests other than environmentalism” — unless you can think of a way to equate “environmentalism” with such entities as Amerind tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Coast Guard, hydropower interests, the water-transport industry, sportsmen and recreational water-users, municipal water supply agencies…

    What else did Herring get wrong? I don’t know, but I do know this: when one of his own links refutes the claim he uses it to support, I’m not much inclined to trust anything else he says.

  19. Bill Illis says:

    I understood that dam operators were letting the max release rate out all winter and early spring due to the snowpack/runoff forecasts.

    I think when the run-off ended up even higher than expected in April and extensive flooding was already occurring in April and May, they slowed down the releases to mitigate the flooding.

    But then they caught by the extensive spring rains and all the dams in western North America are now full to the brim. To protect the dams, they have to release now as fast as it is coming in.

  20. 1DandyTroll says:

    So, essentially, they’ve got a drainage problem but only because they designed it so, and people have lost, not only their homes but, their lives for that green lunacy.

    How is that not some form of homicide?

  21. jim says:

    This entire thread begs a question.
    Can man actually control the rivers?
    If he can, then why could he not cause a
    change some where else as well?
    This Herring is red
    The real situation is that there is a huge amount of water in the North Dakota and it is going to the gulf. Where did this water come from? What is the frequency of major flooding on the Missouri? Times are a changin’!

  22. Speed says:

    Recommended reading: Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee. Available used from Amazon for a penny plus shipping.

    Also, A downside to downing dams?.

  23. Joseph Lausier says:

    I think that Obama wants destruction so that the victims will rebuild. This will stimulate the local economies, another shovel ready opportunity brought to you by the Corps. It also keeps the Corps busy with more projects.

  24. Eric (skeptic) says:

    I wouldn’t attribute it malice but to a colossal screwup. Williston ND is in the news for having floods well above their previous record level http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nd/nwis/uv?cb_00065=on&format=gif_default&period=90&site_no=06330000 but upstream on the Missouri they have not flooded http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv?cb_00065=on&format=gif_default&period=90&site_no=06185500 In between is a very large dam. From the pictures the dam does not have a lot of holding capacity but it seems poorly managed from the graphs. Essentially any time before the June floods that the water level went down, especially upstream, is likely to a wasted opportunity to let water out somewhere further upstream and thus alleviate this potential flood.

    The record rains upstream in Montana were not entirely predictable but the potential was there with record snows and earlier heavy rains.

  25. polistra says:

    Basically I sympathize with the Corps. Most of the problem arises from real estate developments in floodplains since 1950. There’s no political or economic way to break through the tangle of conflicting and rich vested interests; the only way to move housing uphill is to flood them over and over until they get tired.

    There is one simple and absolutely free partial solution: Delete the Endangered Species Act and defund states who fail to delete their own ESA laws. Ain’t gonna happen.

    Face it, we’re stuck on suicide.

  26. Gerry says:

    Flood plains always look so tempting to build on. In the UK the building on flood plains was done because there didn’t seem to be any flooding anymore, and of course the ‘experts’ were predicting a future of hot weather and little rain. Where better to build the houses needed to cope with our last administration’s policy of unfettered immigration? Now that flooding has returned, the plains either flood again or, if flood-protection had been provided, somewhere else along the river course floods. Where a river has lost its shock absorbing mechanism it can result in flash floods through coastal towns.

  27. Jesse says:

    How High’s the Water Mama?

    Not the first time we’ve had large scale flooding. So, in the past sensible people created a plan for flood control. Are our memories so short that now we have forgotten what nature can do?

    The scale of the 1937 flood was so unprecedented that civic and industrial groups lobbied national authorities to create a comprehensive plan for flood control. The plan involved creating more than seventy storage reservoirs to reduce Ohio River flood heights. Not fully completed by the Army Corps of Engineers until the early 1940s, the new facilities have drastically reduced flood damages since.

    In the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley Authority sought to create a continuous minimum 9-foot (2.7 m) channel along the entirety of the Tennessee River from Paducah to Knoxville. The Authority also sought to help control flooding on the lower Mississippi River, especially in the aftermath of the Ohio River flood of 1937, as research had shown that 4% of the water in the lower Mississippi River originates in the Tennessee River watershed. TVA surveyed the lower part of the river and considered the Aurora Landing site, but eventually settled on the present site at river mile 22.4. The Kentucky Dam project was authorized on May 23, 1938, and construction began July 1, 1938. [6]

    Much of the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the Tennessee River basin was strongly supported by the majority of the citizens in western Kentucky and their representatives in the United States Congress. U.S.Sen. Alben W. Barkley of Paducah and U.S. Rep. William Gregory from Mayfield and his brother U.S. Rep. Noble Gregory from Mayfield who succeeded him in office strongly supported the funding of TVA and its role in addressing flood control, soil conservation, family relocation, recreation, production of electricity, and economic development.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_River_flood_of_1937

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Flood_of_1936

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mississippi_Flood_of_1927

  28. herb runkle says:

    Having worked closely with COE and Reclamation in the federal Gov’t. as an engineer for 25 years I share the frustrations of rational people. Unfortunately if any thing positive comes out of any goverment action where real estate values or big $ or political power are at stake is a surprise bonus. Look up the history of Addicks Barker flood control project in Housto, Tx.– good thoughts about control of floodplain development from congress in early 30′s but good thoughts gradually faded from the plan as funding was approved, You can find the same process as channel projects transfer flooding to “land” further down stream. National Flood Insurance Program made sure Gov’t. could spread the cost around and promote MORE flood plain development.

  29. chemman says:

    rbateman says:
    June 26, 2011 at 12:49 am
    —————————-
    That is the fight we are getting ready for once they finally get the Wallow fire in N.E. Arizona put out. The environmentalists created the conditions for this massive burn and if we can go in a harvest fallen trees then we will be right back to the same conditions in a year or two.

  30. Doug in Seattle says:

    wolfwalker says:
    June 26, 2011 at 4:52 am
    . . . unless you can think of a way to equate “environmentalism” with such entities as Amerind tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, . . .

    Don’t know where you’ve been the last 30 years wolfwalker, but here in the PNW the tribes and the environmentalists are the same people, always turning up on the same side in the courts and using the same lawyers to sue their way to the same goals.

    Same goes for many of the sport fishing groups. And if you think that the coast guard is any better than the ACE when it comes to the influence of internal environmentalists, you are blind.

  31. harrywr2 says:

    Many hydro facilities are limited in spill rate by court order.

    I know Grand Coulee is.

    Grid priority is Windmills, then hydro unless hydro is at maximum legal spill.

    This is second year that hydro operators have had to balance heavy runoff , the maximum spill regulations and avoiding windmills curtailment.
    Last years runoff event was relatively brief. This years heavy runoff event has been prolonged.

    Hydro operators have been turned into circus jugglers by judicial fiat.
    It’s not surprising they dropped one of the balls.

  32. Steve says:

    IF, and I say IF this is true, and was deliberately done to flood out the farms (a century and older) and towns (likewise) along the Missouri River, and in time, the Mississippi (wait til this hits New Orleans), then it would qualify as an act of war by the administration against the heartland States who don’t typically vote for the Party in power.

    Has any administration had so many environmental disasters that can be leveraged towards harming America and Americans?

  33. Pamela Gray says:

    This article replaces one unproven theory for another in terms of cause. It is the opposite view but on the same side of the fence. That side has no mechanism and no maths to prove it’s CO2 or the Sun wut dun it. Bad debate form. It makes the rest of the post as suspect and ignorable as the AGW advocate post.

  34. David S says:

    Prior to the TARP act, I believed our government was run by morons who did dumb things out of gross incompetence. The TARP act convinced me the government is run by criminals for the benefit of special interests.

  35. Pamela Gray says:

    As to the flood plain issue, General Grant reported all kinds of flood problems as he searched for the enemy. There is nothing new to report here. What we think is skull duggary…ain’t.

    Mother nature does not care one iota for dams, flood plains, or corp of engineer board meetings. She will have her way come hell or high water. She appears to be using both with a fair amount of regularity, depending on the geographic area.

  36. Chris D. says:

    This has more of a stench of someone possibly screwing up than it does activist policy. Every year the USACE lowers the levels of Lakes Barkley and Kentucky in anticipation of the Spring flood season. This year was no different. I was personally on Lake Barkley last Oct. Our boat grounded a couple of times due to low water. They held back the waters of both lakes this spring at the right time for as long as possible and bought an extra couple day’s time for the people along the Ohio to clear out and sandbag. I have a new appreciation of the work done by USACE.

    I’m not as familiar with the situation on the Missouri, but I do remember reading or watching a story years ago about how they were starting to use the system to mimic the natural spring surges, so I tend to suspect that the USACE bag of tricks just got overwhelmed Before they could prepare due to so much water already in the system from all the rain throughout the entire Midwest, and possibly not anticipating this early enough. Management of the entire Mississippi flood plain must be quite a complex matter. Perhaps it was too late by the time they realized they needed to lower the upper Mo. River reservoirs?

    I think a good question to ask is, knowing what the effect of a strong La Nina would have on rainfall patterns in the Midwest, what guidance was given by NOAA to the USACE and when with regard to preparation for late 2010/early 2011 precipitation?

  37. ChE says:

    Let me get my tinfoil hat on straight…

    It would also be appealing to the environmentalist mindset to do as much economic damage and disrupt as much commercial and industrial activity in North Dakota as possible, in order to disrupt/punish the new oil production operations there.

    Now I’ll put my tinfoil hat away.

  38. Alvin W says:

    In re ‘Wolfwalker at 4:52 am’ Cadillac Desert is a great book and brings
    out the different aims of the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of
    Reclamation which are both government agencies receiving taxpayer
    funds and who LOBBY Congress. It is ridiculous that this isn’t allowed.

  39. Pamela Gray says:

    When floods wipe you out, you have no one to blame but yourself. You decided to live there.

    http://www.champoeg.org/learn-more/1861-willamette-flood.html

  40. rbateman says:

    http://articles.sfgate.com/keyword/folsom-dam
    particularly:
    “Plenty of Water Over the Dam / State hopes for slow snowmelt
    By Michael McCabe, Chronicle Staff Writer | April 10, 1995
    1995-04-10 04:00:00 PST Folsom Dam Sacramento County — With a near-record snowpack in the Sierra state and federal reservoir experts are cautiously optimistic it won’t melt so fast that the flatlands will see a return of the floods. In fact the upside of all that snow strongly outweighs any lingering fear that the state’s dams and reservoirs will not be able to handle it. For a state that has just gone through six years of drought the cool spring that is permitting a leisurely snowmelt is like money in the bank.”
    Note the date. Very improtant.
    Now this very first article on the page:
    “FEATURED ARTICLESNEWS
    PAGE ONE (SACRAMENTO) — Gate Breaks at Folsom Dam / Warning to stay off American River
    By Yumi Wilson, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau | July 18, 1995
    1995-07-18 04:00:00 PST Sacramento — NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE A spill gate at Folsom Dam broke yesterday raising the American River high enough to force the evacuation of the homeless fishermen rafters and other recreationists but posing no threat to nearby homes. As 40000 cubic feet of water per second began pouring out of the filled reservoir at 8 a.m. the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning for areas along the American River and police and sheriff’s deputies cleared dozens of people from the river banks and closed nearby roads and parks.”
    40000 cfs is close to the limit that the levee system and the bypasses can handle.
    They were banking on a slow melt. They are doing the same thing today. The gate failed at Folsom when controllers discovered they could open the gates wider than specifications.
    All the North State reservoirs are chock full.
    Note the 2nd article to the right. Sen. Feinstein lobbying for levee repairs. Well, did it happen?
    No, not enough was done. Swarzenegger tried to. No, the money was gone by then.
    Just like the Mississippi, the levees are old and in need of massive repairs.
    Now, stir in the ‘It’s natural” seasoning, and it’s every man for himself.

  41. P Walker says:

    I’ve heard next to nothing about the impact this flooding is having on crop production . The combination of a late , wet spring , severe weather and flooding is bound to have done some serious damage – and not only in the Missouri drainage . I’m thinking that food prices might get pretty ugly this winter . Does anyone out ther have a handle on this ?

  42. Doug in Seattle says:

    Overwhelmed, incompetent managers, or deliberate tinkering? I would choose the first or second over the third normally.

    My own dealings with ACE inform me that most of the people there are honest, but these folks don’t advance up the management chain.

    The current political bosses are doing a very good job of weeding out those who don’t follow the narrative though (like the Clinton admin did back in the 90s), so the third option does rise somewhat higher in my thinking. I’d still like to see some memos though before I start to point fingers.

  43. JJ says:

    The author needs to learn a lot more about water and the West. Casting this is as simply ‘those damn environmentalists running amok’ is assinine.

    “Originally, these other purposes were water supply, river navigation and recreation, none of which are served by failing to leave enough reservoir space for normal runoff in a high runoff year.”

    Nonsense. Those other purposes are still water supply, river navigation and recreation, among others. And there are still powerful interests behind each of those uses, particularly water supply. We are coming off several years of drought in the upper Missouri watershed, a situation that has only strengtheded the standard incentive among water users to not want resource managers to ‘waste’ water by releasing it from reservoirs before the peak of the hydrograph (to make space for flood control accumulation), or for reasons other than attempting to satisfy our grossly over-allocated water rights infrastructure. Agricultural interest is max fill of the reservoirs, and no water released for anything other than dry season irrigation. Recreation also prefers full reservoirs (people dont like it when their marinas are 1/4 mile from the water), and both river recreation and navigation have incentive to keep water releases to the dry season.

    These are huge political issues that have nothing to do with ‘environmentalism’, which has been intentionally and officially discriminated against, to the detriment of other than the entrenched special interests, for the entire history of the West.

    The idea that water management was simple and non-conflicted prior to concerns over ‘environmental’ issues is post-normal science political fiction.

    Anthony should stick to global warming, and point to the severe conflicts and unintended consequences of our attempt at controlling even a small part of the climate system (regional precipitation run off) as an obvious counter to those idiots that think we should (let alone could) try to control it all (global heat budget) with ‘stop global warming’ schemes.

  44. Norman says:

    Bill Illis says:
    June 26, 2011 at 5:32 am
    “I understood that dam operators were letting the max release rate out all winter and early spring due to the snowpack/runoff forecasts”

    Corps winter report and planning.

    Gavin’s point dam was releasing 21000 cubic feet per second. Not even close to a maximum release rate.

    In the local Omaha World Herald paper the Corp defend their decisions with a series of questions and answers. The big unknown was 8″ rains in a large part of Eastern Montana in May. Usually this heavy of a rain event covers only a small area. In this event it covered a very wide area. If dams had not been built there would have been severe flooding this year. The Corps seems to be limiting the extent of the flooding by prolonging it. Rather than a two week flood period it will go on for months. All anyone can do is hope the levee’s hold and the Nuclear reactors keep their used rods cool.

  45. Andrew Parker says:

    @Frosty, What you recommend was encouraged by the Dept. of Agriculture after the Dust Bowl and a series of devastating flash floods in the ’20′s and ’30′s. Contour plowing, wind breaks, waterway buffers, etc.. were widely implemented by farmers and ranchers for their own benefit. Unfortunately, farm subsidy programs in the last 30-40 years have encouraged farmers to utilize every square inch of their property for cultivation and these soil conservation works have largely been destroyed, as well as beneficial natural features that had. until recently, been left alone.

    There tends to be a distinct difference in the way the Federal gov’t approaches management decisions in the “West” vs. “East.” A lot if it has its foundation in the manner in which land was settled and statehood was applied. There is little Federal land in the “East,” while in the “West,” the Federal gov’t is a major, if not the principle, landholder. What the Feds feel they can get away with politically in Tennessee, New York or Ohio, is different than what they feel they can do in Utah, California or the Dakotas. Living in Utah, I have little hope of influencing what goes on in New York, but a new yorker has little doubt that he/she can influence what happens in Utah (if they care to), because, as a citizen of the US, he/she owns/controls most of it. Historically, those living outside the West who care what happens in the West tend to be conservationists that are easily influenced by radical environmentalists. This leaves those of us who live in the West in the peculiar position of having less to say what happens in the land around us than someone who lives two thousand miles away, which is a bit of a distortion of the law of the commons.

    Local governments are not useful tools in controlling things like flood zones, as they are, by their nature, heavily influenced by property owners and developers. As has been mentioned, as long as developers and owners feel that they will always be bailed out by the Feds, they will continue to build in high risk areas like flood plains and ocean beaches. Of course, even without flood insurance and disaster bailouts, some people will still build. It is human nature to take risks.

  46. Alec Rawls says:

    Pamela wrote:

    Mother nature does not care one iota for dams, flood plains, or corp of engineer board meetings. She will have her way come hell or high water.

    There will be floods that our flood control systems cannot contain, but the amount of flooding is certainly contingent on how those systems are used. Leaving less than normal reservoir space in a well-above-normal snow year is an obvious recipe for disaster. It was certainly obvious to the Public Works director in Pierre.

    Bill Ilis’ observation:

    I understood that dam operators were letting the max release rate out all winter and early spring due to the snowpack/runoff forecasts.

    I think when the run-off ended up even higher than expected in April and extensive flooding was already occurring in April and May, they slowed down the releases to mitigate the flooding.

    Certainly they had no choice but to hold back water once the Mississippi started flooding in April and May, but Bill seems to be wrong about dam operators releasing at maximum rates all winter. The Pierre water manager’s complaint came in early February. With a large snowpack, he knew they needed to take advantage of their window of opportunity to release water before the river swelled downstream, but it wasn’t happening. Maybe it was not certain that there would be a bottleneck, but it was certainly likely. These peoples’ job it to prepare for such difficulties and they didn’t do it.

    JJ notes that balancing flood control with uses that depend on capturing water is a longstanding problem. Yes, obviously, but that does not account for a glaring deviation from established safe practices. Of course argument by exclusion is not very reliable, as I noted, but such an obvious deviation has to be motivated, and traditional water use objectives cannot account for it.

    Well, it turns out I did omit one of the dam operator’s objectives: hydroelectric generation. Thanks to Harry for bringing up the new factor of dam operators being required to hold back hydroelectric generation to make room for wind-power when the windmills are in operation. The specific complaint of Pierre’s water manager was about the high level of lake Oahe. The Oahe dam is a major provider of electricity to the north-central U.S. and the Dakotas are the site of substantial new wind farming. Could this account for the deviation from past norms?

    If so, wind-hydro effects could also have contributed to the flooding of Minot North Dakota. The main dam on the Souris River is the Canadian Rafferty-Alameda project, which in addition to providing flood control and water supply also supplies water to the Shand Power Station in lower Saskatchewan. The Canadians have also been going whole hog on windfarms, which would have displaced hydro. Were the Canadian dams fuller than usual as a result? Worth looking into.

    The implications for wind-farming would be devastating. The water for the hydro that they replace will sometimes NEED to be released, meaning that if it is not used for hydro, it will have to be released without generating any electricity, so that wind generated electricity will at these times have zero value. If in order to avoid that implication they are holding the water in reservoirs when it needs to be released, then the wind farming becomes responsible for the resulting flooding.

  47. DesertYote says:

    wolfwalker
    June 26, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Why not? Remember, we’re talking about the Army Corps of Engineers, and specifically the Mississippi Valley division — possibly the least competent division of the least competent unit in the whole United States armed forces. If you really still trust the ACE to get water management right, I suggest you read Marc Reisner’s book Cadillac Desert, and follow it with some accounts of the disaster the ACE made of New Orleans’ levee system.
    ###

    You fail to realize that the ACE does what they are TOLD to do. Engineering of the Mississippi valley happens to be the most politicized of all their projects. The ACE has been complaining for decades about some of the things they are told to do. Lately it has been eco-nuts and their lefty politician buddies that have been setting the agenda.

  48. mike g says:

    Chris D. says:
    June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I think a good question to ask is, knowing what the effect of a strong La Nina would have on rainfall patterns in the Midwest, what guidance was given by NOAA to the USACE and when with regard to preparation for late 2010/early 2011 precipitation?

    You can be that guidance was that record snow pack is a thing of the past.

  49. ChE says:

    Notice also that this is a twofer for the greens; in addition to the “natural” river, they get to blame the flooding on “climate change”.

  50. Pamela Gray says:

    I would also blame myself if my wind farm was shut down due to high hydroelectric production. I decided to sink my money into the business. I take the risk.

  51. Ralph says:

    >>CynicalScientist says: June 26, 2011 at 3:27 am
    >>Perhaps the Army Corps of Engineers thinks…..

    Whoa, there. That’s an oxymoron, surely ?

    .

  52. ann r says:

    Re food costs: The June 16 edition of Western Ag Reporter notes that due to wet weather only 11% of the Ohio corn crop was planted by mid May, compared to usual 80%. The disruption of rural communities by tornadoes has set back planting in other areas of the Midwest. Floods have taken more land out of use. Some states are reporting only 58% of corn acreage sowed. Commodity analysts say wet weather will give us the lowest global corn inventory in 37 years.

  53. Ralph says:

    >>polistra says: June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am
    >>. Most of the problem arises from real estate developments in floodplains since 1950.

    That’s true. In the UK a few years ago we had many complaints about houses on the floodplains being flooded.

    The clue lies in the name, chaps.

    As usual the government will do nothing to sort out the problem or give leadership, and responsibility now rests with insurance companies. At least these have the common sense to charge 4x the price for flood plain properties, making it uneconomic to build there.

    .

  54. David Corcoran says:

    Wolfwalker is a troll who cross posted the same thing at Ace of Spades.

    Bill Illis, resevoirs in Calif are full. You can check that yourself.

  55. John Q. Galt says:

    I bet there are some juicy e-mails sitting on the Corp’s servers just waiting to see the light of day.

  56. Jeff Alberts says:

    I’ve always felt that if you have levees and dikes, you’re asking for trouble. They will always fail eventually. Flood plains are there for a reason. The Skagit Valley in Western Washington will have to deal with this at some point as well.

  57. JJ says:

    Alec,

    “JJ notes that balancing flood control with uses that depend on capturing water is a longstanding problem. Yes, obviously, but that does not account for a glaring deviation from established safe practices.”

    You havent shown any deviation from established practices. To the contrary, you quote this, from the Water Control Manual:

    Releases at higher-than-normal rates early in the season that cannot be supported by runoff forecasting techniques is inconsistent with all System purposes other than flood control. All of the other authorized purposes depend upon the accumulation of water in the System rather than the availability of vacant storage space.

    But you dont seem to understand what that means. It says that early season reservoir drawdown is inconsistent with ALL System purposes other than flood control. That is what I was trying to explain to you. When they say ALL sysyem purposes, they are talking about irrigation, municple water, power generation, recreation, etc. ALL of those system purposes are predicated on operating the system in ways that are exactly the opposite of the needs of flood control.

    ” Of course argument by exclusion is not very reliable, as I noted, but such an obvious deviation has to be motivated, and traditional water use objectives cannot account for it.”

    As I noted: nonsense. Traditional water use objectives want full reservoirs, and traditional water users dont want water release on the rising limb of the hydrograph during the spring. That ‘wastes’ water in their view, and risks having less than brimming reservoirs to be used during the dry season. There is no ‘obvious deviation’ for hushed reasons of environmental terrorism. The simple fact of the matter is, our system is not run to optimize for flood control. It never has been, and it never will be. If it were, reservoirs would be sized to hold the 500 year flood, and they would be empty 99% of the time. That is how flood control dams are operated. The bulk of the system is not run like that, because empty reservoirs do not generate power, or provide for irrigation, or support water skiers and bass fishing tournaments. Environmentalists looking for a natural hydrograph want dams removed, not run at full capacity at the whims of consumptive users.

    If you truly believe in your exclusionaryconspiracy theory principle driven scenario, then why not test it? Hop on over to the next Corp meeting in your favorite Western ag town, and demand that the System be run in a manner that is optimized for flood control, instead of irrigation. Pay attention to who screams. It wont be the greenies.

    Ft Peck reservoir is full for the first time in more than a decade. People are very, very happy about that. If you had gone there three months ago and demanded that it be drawn down, to make room for the possibility that eastern Montana would get six months worth of rain in two days, your head would be rotting on a pitchfork and Minot would still be flooded.

  58. wolfwalker says:

    Corcoran, you need to check your terminology. A troll is somebody who posts something they don’t believe merely to cause trouble. At both Ace of Spades and here, I posted something that I do believe, to provide an alternate point of view which I believe has value. I didn’t bother to defend it at Ace because the initial reaction there told me I’d be wasting my time. I had somewhat higher hopes for the people here.

    DesertYote: “You fail to realize that the ACE does what they are TOLD to do. Engineering of the Mississippi valley happens to be the most politicized of all their projects.”

    Of course the ACE is limited by their mission statements and their instructions from higher-up. But how does that contradict what I said, which is that the ACE has a serious competence problem? You may not be aware of this, but after the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, it came out that the Army Corps of Engineers had bungled the analysis and design for several critical levees in the city’s levee system. I mean really bungled it. Screwed the pooch. FUBAR. Charlie Foxtrot. That wasn’t the result of bureaucratic red tape, or of bad mission statements. It was plain old-fashioned incompetence. I have heard and read of similar screwups in other ACE-run projects. We agree that the Mississippi Valley division of the ACE is heavily politicized and that makes it harder for the ACE to do anything right … but politicization is far from the ACE’s only problem.

  59. David Corcoran says:

    Wolfwalker, it’s still troll behavior if your cross post at many sites, even if you are a true believer in your cause.

    JJ,
    “‘environmentalism’… has been intentionally and officially discriminated against, to the detriment of other than the entrenched special interests, for the entire history of the West.”

    So now people must suffer to make up for this lost time? When more towns flood this year (the snowpack is late melting), and they will… the excuses you offer will mean nothing. “Saving the planet”, as George Carlin put it, is now officially more important than people’s lives even by your own words. And everyone knows it.

  60. Roger Sowell says:

    My two cents on the water management issue. First, some background on my experience. I spent a good deal of time in the 1960s and 70s around Lake Travis, just north of Austin, Texas where Mansfield Dam is situated on the Colorado River. That dam is operated for all of the purposes mentioned in the above comments, flood control, irrigation water supply, fishing, boating, swimming, and hydroelectric power generation. The Colorado in Texas is named the same, but is a different river from the Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon.

    The dam was built primarily for flood control, because the Colorado had devastating floods in the early 20th century. The first dam built at that site failed during a flood. The current dam was also less than adequate and was modified during construction to increase the height by 80 feet. The lake is a variable level lake, and is maintained at a level sufficient to contain most or all of the expected runoff during each Spring rainy season. Snow runoff is not an issue. The Colorado required a series of dams, 5 in all, to adequately control the flooding.

    The other lake features are an added benefit besides the flood control benefit. There is a substantial power generation, and water is released for domestic use and for irrigation. A good portion of the water is also used by a nuclear power plant at the mouth of the river, the South Texas Nuclear Project. The river water is used to cool the reactors and the steam from the turbines.

    With all the uses from that lake, the operator (LCRA, or Lower Colorado River Authority) takes direction from the US Army Corps of Engineers when the level rises above the full mark at 681 feet above Mean Sea Level, MSL. The spillway level is somewhat higher at 714 feet above MSL.

    . http://www.lcra.org/water/dams/mansfield.html

  61. cwj says:

    P Walker
    “I’ve heard next to nothing about the impact this flooding is having on crop production . The combination of a late , wet spring , severe weather and flooding is bound to have done some serious damage – and not only in the Missouri drainage . I’m thinking that food prices might get pretty ugly this winter . Does anyone out ther have a handle on this ?”

    The post planting USDA planting report was 90 million acres for corn, down from an initial projection of just over 92 million acres for corn. For the most part, the crop got planted. In Iowa it is doing well.

    The initial reports that I heard on the flood situation is that 450,000 acres of cropland along the Missouri would be inundated, more lately I’ve heard 150,000 acres. The latter number seems reasonable to me based on a drive from Sioux City to Missouri Valley, Iowa and some very crude math. The reports are not specific to the crop, but by my observation the Iowa cropland in that area is primarily corn and is among the little in Iowa that is irrigated. Irrigated corn in Iowa yields roughly double non-irrigated. It appears to me that the area has too many wet spots to run the irrigation pivots so though 450,000 acres have not been lost, much will not get the doubling due to irrigation. Some of that corn will get all the water it needs from below ground.

    The Missouri River flood levels have not reached as high as initially projected by the Corps. This is in part due to less than projected runoff from below the Garretson Dam in the tributaries. More rain could increase the flooded area to closer to the 450,000 acres initially projected.

    Countering the shortfall in land planted is a trend to increase crop densities planted, and a reduction in cattle being fed, so less corn eaten by cattle. Continuing wet weather usually means better corn, (we are getting more rain tonight) but dry is needed during pollination in July.

    My guess is that the corn crop will not be much different than last year.

  62. besty3 says:

    Look it’s amazing, it’s to never get out of that new

  63. cwj says:

    The Corps of Engineers operates the Missouri River dams according to a manual specific to the Missouri River. The policies in that manual were hashed out by the political battles that went into the manual. The Corps’ actions can only be interpreted according to that manual. If the Corps followed those policies to the current result, blame the manual, not the Corps. I have heard no-one review the Corps’ operations in light of the manual.

    It also has to be reiterated that earlier this year there was severe flooding on the southern Mississippi. A release of water from the Missouri system before and during that event had to include the consideration of first a possible increase of flooding in the Southern Mississippi and later a certain increase in flooding in that area, balanced against a possible flooding along the Missouri.

    The Missouri system has the largest amount of storage and control available to the Corps in dealing with floods in the Mississippi River system. There is no similar control on either the Ohio or Mississippi Rivers or tributaries.

  64. Alec Rawls says:

    JJ: The deviation from established practices is asserted in the statement from the manager of the Pierre water system, who warned in February that there was a less than normal drawdown of the reservoirs despite higher than normal snowpack.

  65. Sean says:

    The point on Uk coastal erosion is not the same. The UK government looked at looked at the land value and publicly decided it was not economic to defend much of the land. A very public policy review. You see the risks when you buy, and the risk is reflected in the price, If you are counting on the public purse to protect your private land, you know there is a risk they can change thier policy,

  66. Frosty says:

    “Andrew Parker says:
    June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am

    @Frosty, What you recommend was encouraged by the Dept. of Agriculture after the Dust Bowl and a series of devastating flash floods in the ’20′s and ’30′s. Contour plowing, wind breaks, waterway buffers, etc..”

    Interesting, thanks Andrew, I’ll have to see if I can find some original DoA advice sheets of the time to see how much of this “cutting edge” wheel is a redesign ;) I thought Yoeman invented keyline in the 50′s.

    It seems these type of agricultural land/grazing management techniques, for soil building and drought tolerance, are gaining popularity again, especially in areas of degraded soils (they reversed desertification during a drought in Zimbabwe). Sensible farmers who design from observation of the physical landscape call it Regenerative Agriculture (see http://regenag.com/web/).
    Subsidy suckers who design from observation of the political landscape call it “carbon farming” ;)

  67. Eric (skeptic) says:

    JJ said: “Ft Peck reservoir is full for the first time in more than a decade. People are very, very happy
    about that. If you had gone there three months ago and demanded that it be drawn down, to make
    room for the possibility that eastern Montana would get six months worth of rain in two days,
    your head would be rotting on a pitchfork and Minot would still be flooded.”

    True except for the last bit (and the part about eastern Montana should read “parts of easten Montana”). The gauges upstream from the Ft Peck dam show flooding but nothing like the downstream record flooding. Something is wrong with this picture: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv?cb_00065=on&format=gif_default&period=90&site_no=06185500

  68. cwj says:

    Eric (skeptic):
    A quick look at some maps shows that the Souris River apparently flows into Canada, Not to the Missouri River. So Fort Peck on the Missouri River has nothing to do with the flooding on the Souris, which is on a different river system.

    Someone else confirm that. The maps I looked at were not crystal clear.

  69. Michael Snow says:

    The Oahe reservoir at Pierre hit a record LOW level in 2006 as a result of dought. At one point former Gov. Janklow wanted to sue the Corp for releasing too much water. There are both politcial and natural reasons for holding back water and Mother Nature continues to frustrate th plans of mice and men, best laid or not.

  70. Bob Kutz says:

    JJ says:
    June 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm
    &
    Eric (skeptic) says:
    June 27, 2011 at 5:24 am

    You both seem to have not the slightest clue what you are talking about;

    Minot has nothing whatsoever to do with Ft. Peck or the Missouri river. The Souris drains into the Red river in Winnipeg.

    Also; these dams were built for flood mitigation. I know the manual now includes a list of other determining factors, and the dams were built with hydro-electric generators, but the reason they were funded was flood control. Yes, recreation was anticipated and the merchants knew it. Irrigation was considered, and the farmers supported that. But if it hadn’t been for the recent extreme flooding events, the dams never would’ve been built.

    As far as consideration of the Mississippi flooding in April; if they’d begun releasing additional from Gavin’s point in February or March that very possibly would have affected the Mississippi below St. Louis in April and May.

    Now, I don’t know what their models look like, but the possibility that they anticipated a 8-15 inch rainfall event over the course of 168 hours in the mid-Mississippi valley some 4-8 weeks before it happened and decided against opening up Gavin’s Point seems a bit remote to me. Maybe their forecast models are better than I thought, but last Thursday I was assured of having great weather on my local Army Corps lake and got rain all weekend instead, greatly disappointing my wife and children, and several dozen crappie and walleye as well.

    Regardless, if they’d put those reservoirs low in the fall, which they usually do, there’d be a lot less of a problem in the Missouri river valley today. Somebody ought to look at the rules, how those rules were established, and whether they were followed. Can’t do any more than that and making accusations at this point is futile. If the green/eco warrior members of the Army Corps are found to have violated the rules, I am certain the UCMJ has an appropriate punishment for that crime. If they are have found to have influenced the rules to fit their agenda and then followed the rules, I am sure we can correct the rules and highlight the problems of allowing these people to change the rules. One more feather in the hat of engineering over hippie, love bead, mother earth gaia, moon-beam and good vibes moronism that is the eco-freak green warrior agenda. Not sure we can do better than that.

    Either way; when you throw Minot into the mix, (or go with “true except for that last bit”, and then miss the Minot error) you show a lack of understanding of the geography of the situation that discredits whatever else you wish to say.

  71. DesertYote says:

    wolfwalker
    June 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm
    ###

    So you buy the propaganda of lefties trying to cover their butts and play the blame Bush game. Sorry doesn’t wash. The ACE had been warning of disaster for over FORTY YEARS! Politics has tied their hands from doing anything. BTW, absolutely no levy system could have saved New Orleans. And no conceivable levy system will save it in the future. Its a lost cause, the Mississippi will win.

  72. Andrew Parker says:

    @Frosty, Yep, not much new under the sun. I took some time to rummage through my library and finally found a couple of my Dad’s old Yearbooks of Agriculture. The years 1938, “Soils and Men”, and 1955, “Water”, have excellent articles on erosion control and watershed management. I know there is another one that I remember, but I haven’t been able to locate it. The specific article I was looking for covered the WPA terracing in the Wasatch mountains.

  73. Andrew Parker says:

    @Frosty, Sorry, that terracing was done by the CCC.

  74. JJ says:

    Alec,

    “The deviation from established practices is asserted in the statement from the manager of the Pierre water system, who warned in February that there was a less than normal drawdown of the reservoirs despite higher than normal snowpack.”

    No, it really isnt. What you have is a statement plucked from an email from Feb 3, stating that as of that date, the Corps hadn’t emptied reservoirs enough to accomodate typical spring runoff. That is the assertion. Is that true? If it is true, is it a deviation from standard practice? Is drawdown for expected annual runoff capacity achieved by Feb 3 every year, based on Jan snowpack (only halfway thru the snow season)? That isnt even asserted.

    Then, look at the rest of that article from the Capital Journal. What does it say? That the Corps was following SOP wrt to drawdowns. That the Corps did make flood control based releases according to their standard model predictions. That even Brad Lawrence was tentative in his predictions, qualifying them with:

    “That is assuming that we get enough warmth this summer to melt it all. We failed to melt all the snow last summer, so it is entirely possible that we will build more year round snow pack, AKA the making of a glacier.”

    And he didn’t predict what actually happened any better than the Corps did, which was that a hugely anomalous rain on snow event (6 months of rain in two days) melted all of that snow, not over the course of the summer, but within a few days.

    There is nothing presented in this scenario than is not consistent with the Corps SOP – operate the system to maintain full pool under the expected (from modeling) runoff regime. Operating the system that way – running flood control on the ragged edge in deference to maintaining stored water, releasing ‘just enough’ water to meet the modeled expectation – is a response to the other System purposes (irrigation, recreation, navigation, etc). That is explicitly stated in the quote from the Water Control Manual. There is no environmentalist bogey man visible here.

  75. Eric (skeptic) says:

    Sorry, I followed JJ’s comment and didn’t error check it. Of course Minot has nothing to do with Williston which has beaten its old flood record by 3 feet. But my point is very valid, Williston was flooded to a new record, but upstream from Williston is the dam that JJ talked about. Upstream from that (the link I posted) there was high water but no record flooding. It is obvious that the dam policy was not formulated for this contingency.

  76. Eric (skeptic) says:

    Bob Kutz, if you look in the tips and notes thread, I posted several days ago why Minot had record flooding, and that was a much bigger screwup than Ft Peck and Williston.

  77. Nic says:

    I do not know why anyone would live near a floodplain it is called a flood plain because it floods.

  78. Mark C says:

    If you look at the total Missouri River reservoir system capacity graphs for the 2010-2011 winter, you’ll see that the capacity was drawn down at a steady rate to about December 1st, then held level through March. The level the USACE held at was at the bottom of the “annual flood control” zone, their target. This is the basis of their claim that they had “full flood control capacity available” in spring 2011.

    However, had they continued the fall drawdown at the same rate through March, they could have opened up about 7 million acre-feet of system capacity and absorbed more of the unexpected snow pack and rainfall that occurred in Montana in May. Probably not all, but some mitigation could have happened. It would have required drawing down all the big reservoirs about 10 feet lower than the “annual flood control” zone levels, but still plenty for other purposes.

    Up to late April, everything was looking rosy for managing the Missouri. Snowpack was right at normal levels and normally stops increasing at the end of April. However, in May the snowpack continued to grow and went from near normal in April to about 140% of normal in mid-May. Plus a very large rain event happened in eastern Montana in May. These two things put way more water into the system than could be stored.

    The Corps appears to manage the river by dealing with the middle 60-80 percentiles (their projections typically use either 80/20 or 90/10 percentiles as their bounds). When they get caught by extreme events, bad things happen. I don’t think they manage the high-side risk as well as the low-side risk. Low-side risk hurts recreation interests and barge navigation. High-side risk wrecks cities. Hopefully the Corps will reevaluate their master manual and place greater emphasis on managing the water for high-side risks, leaving the rest of the considerations secondary.

    The Corps also does not appear to use seasonal forecasts in their winter system management plans. The final 2011 plan (released mid-December 2010) used only seasonal averages even though the Climate Prediction Center was predicting above-average precip in many parts of the basin for late winter and spring 2011.

  79. Andrew Parker says:

    @Nic, Building on a floodplain is a calculated risk. The USGS provides flood maps indicating areas that are likely to be flooded and the estimated frequency of that flooding. This is used primarily for zoning and insurance purposes.

    Building in a 100 year flood area is a risk, but if there is flood control engineered for a 100 year flood in place there is a reasonable expectation that there is some protection. If a 1000 year flood comes that is greater than what the controls were engineered for, then all bets are off. The “discussion” here is whether or not existing flood controls were managed appropriately to protect those who had a reasonable expectation of protection. I am sure that everything will get figured out, eventually, but there is probably not enough information to say definitively, one way or another, right now.

    There are few building sites without some sort of risk involved, whether it be flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, subsidence, mudslides, avalanches, rockfalls, wild/forest fires, tidal waves/tsunamis, volcanoes, etc..

  80. wolfwalker says:

    DesertYote, you really need to quit jumping to conclusions. I honestly don’t understand how you got from my comments to “buy[ing] the propaganda of lefties trying to cover their butts and play the blame Bush game.” The simple fact is that the American Thinker article triggered my BS detector, just like a lot of lefty crap does, and I thought it worth noting that the said article appears to have some accuracy problems.

    You see, I’m a true skeptic, or at least I try to be — I don’t accept any claim without evidence, whether it’s one I agree with or not. And I hate it when somebody on my side of an issue uses false or inaccurate arguments. If you have the truth on your side, you shouldn’t need to resort to falsehoods or fallacies.

  81. Alec Rawls says:

    The graphs that Mark C refers to are interesting. The main page for the northwest division of the Corps of Engineers is here:

    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/index.html

    It has historic reservoir levels charts:

    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/pdfs/MainstemElevationsStorages-15%20years.pdf

    and discharge data for this year:

    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/qmeasurements2011.html

    Oddly, the discharge data is for the Missouri below the Dakotas, while the level data is for upper reservoirs only, so picture is not really clear. Still, the gist seems to be that levels in January were near the base of the “annual flood control and multiple use zone,” or near the bottom of the target zone. Levels then shot up in February and March, generally popping out the top of the target zone. (The data only goes through the end of March.) As for snowpack, levels had been above the 30 year average all winter, and by the end of March were well above average:

    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/snow.pdf

    This suggests water managers should have been trying to get back down to the lower end of the flood control target level, but release rates, while elevating substantially, remained far below capacity, meaning releases were far from aggressive. Maybe upriver things were different. That is the missing data. But it looks like an awfully pokey response to a surging threat.

    I will say though, that the Pierre water manager’s claim of a less than normal draw down does seem to lack historical perspective. Yes, levels were much higher than anything seen in 10 years, but the previous 10 years were not normal. From a historical perspective, it is not the situation in early February that is alarming, but what happens in February and March. The reservoirs were filling up while snowpack was surging (especially in March), without an aggressive response.

  82. joe says:

    they are continuing to build in the floodplain here in Sacramento(Natomas) because the city and/or county wants the increased tax revenues of the improved land….if there’s a 100 year flood they will be under 20-25 feet of water….and the last i heard they are not required to buy flood insurance so looks like the taxpayer will be on the hook…

  83. Mark C says:

    Alec,
    Sorry for not being able to post the links (had to run yesterday afternoon).

    Here is the 2010-2011 annual operating plan, developed in fall 2010 and finalized in December:
    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/pdfs/finalAOP2010-2011.pdf

    Here is the spring 2011 update:
    http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/pdfs/Spring2011MtgPres.pdf

    Page 18 is the key graphic. If they had continued the fall 2010 slope to around March, system capacity would have been at 50-51 MAF rather than 57.

    I don’t think there was anything significant that could have been done after late April to mitigate the May events. The decision to hold at 57 MAF through the winter, keeping the reservoirs too full to handle a >95th percentile runoff event, set the stage for the June flood.

  84. Joe Herring says:

    I’m the author of the original piece in American Thinker, and thought I should clarify a few points in the interest of adding value to your already robust and well-considered discussion. Regarding wolfwalkers’ assertion that my characterization of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee is incorrect, I would urge him to look deeper than the nameplates attached to the membership slots, at the actual backgrounds of the individuals who fill those slots. The tribal interests are very closely aligned with the environmentalist agenda.

    The government agencies represented have filled their slots with a slate of assorted academics with purely environmental backgrounds in both education and experience. One of the seats for a water quality specialist is filled by an individual whose training and expertise lies in water quality for endangered species, not humans. The only members I could find that did not have either direct ties or clear sympathy toward the “river recovery” agenda were two farmers and a couple of hydropower reps.

    Regarding the Corps stated position that everything was fine until those pesky spring rains simply is not supported by their own numbers. According to Jody Farhat of the Corps headquarters for the Missouri River mainstem dam system in Omaha, before the above referenced rains, they were looking at dealing with a 44-50 MAF (million acre feet) year, which she stated would have been easily handled at a release rate of 50-60K cubic feet per second.(cfs)

    The above referenced rainfall amounted to approximately 4-5 MAF according to Farhat. Are we to assume that the additional 4-5 MAF is responsible for the need to increase flow rates by more than 100kcfs? The narrative the Corps is selling is not supported by their own data. I’m not making a blanket accusation. I am however calling for an in depth investigation in order to discover the reality behind the farce. It is imperative that this begin immediately, just in case the Corps and their supervisors above, have their document shredders operating just as fast as their floodgates.

  85. pk says:

    joe H

    did you check to see if Jody Farhat is of Sioux, Assiniboine or Blackfoot descent.

    C

  86. sleepydogs says:

    The Corps said that they knew in April they were facing a flooding problem. Coincidentally, this is when the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant was shut down for “refueling”. Only a few days ago did the NRC say that flooding was one of the reasons for the shutdown. Not until May did the Corps start seriously increasing the amount of water released. I don’t know how all those dots are supposed to be connected, but I know we haven’t been getting the straight story from officials.

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