by Alicia Claire Lloyd
Controlling flood risk requires common sense placement and maintenance of agricultural levees and limits on development in the natural floodplain. The recent decision in federal claims court in Ideker Farms et. al v. United States came as a blow to restoration advocates who disagree with the plaintiffs’ claim that the Corps’ restoration efforts on the Missouri River caused them to experience flood damages. The judge ruled that damages occurred across four states – Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska, but a second trial will begin in October to determine the dollar amount of those impacts. The lawsuit was filed in 2014 and alleged that the restoration efforts as part of the Missouri River Recovery Program were responsible for private flooding and ultimately, a “takings” of private property.
Discouragingly, Missouri’s own US Representative, Sam Graves, whose district spans the northern length of the state, is spearheading efforts to stall restoration activities by defunding the program.
In fact, it was the failure to complete the 1944 Pick Sloan plan which is responsible for much of today’s lower river woes. The Pick Sloan plan is best known for the huge upper Missouri River reservoirs built under its guidance. However, the plan had a critical lower river component calling for levee setbacks which was never fully completed. If the plan had been followed, the river would have had room to expand during natural flood pulses and flooding along the river would be substantially reduced. Instead, the Missouri River floods even worse than before the river was altered and we’ve lost the ecosystem services that a natural river system provides us, such as flood storage, water filtration, wildlife habitat, and recreation.
The Corps, through the Bank Stabilization and Navigation Program, heavily altered the Missouri River to facilitate farming in the floodplains’ legacy rich soils and to create a barge channel which, while built, has never carried much traffic. These changes destroyed much of the natural habitat for endangered species including the Pallid Sturgeon, Least Tern, and Piping Plover as well as for other aquatic and floodplain ecosystem critters. The alterations disconnected the river from its floodplain ultimately giving these landowners adjacent to the river free land, that land used to be floodplain and even the river itself in some cases. Now, the landowners want to maintain their access to it on the taxpayers’ dime even as it costs the public financially and in the loss of environmental benefits a functioning, healthy river system provides.… Read the rest