Monday Roundup: Flood Warnings Ignored

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“In the end, nearly everything that could go wrong did,” write Jonathan Ellis and Cody Winchester with the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader. No kidding, this very good story shows. And as a result, much of the Missouri River flooded this year, with thousands of acres expected to remain under water through August. 

The reporters have done an incredible job of tracing decisions within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as snow and rain built up in the upper part of the river and the flooding began. The reporters have obtained emails sent to and within the Corps. The messages show that the states and some downstream landowners began to worry about flooding as early as January of this year. North Dakota officials called a meeting of federal and state officials in early February. 

Higher than average snow packs caused this early concern. Corps officials thought they had the situation under control, despite the warnings. When heavy rains followed, the river was out of control.

One lower level Corps official wrote his bosses that concerns of managers weren’t being taken into account by top officers. Moreover, he wrote that the Corps’ reliance on averages wasn’t working. “It just seems to me that when we’re in a drought cycle we overestimate the precip and when we’re in a wet cycle we underestimate it,” the official wrote.

Heavy rains soon followed and the floods began.

•Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader reporters Bill Estep and Linda Johnson reported last week that the numbers of Kentucky children being raised by adults other than their parents had jumped between 2000 and 2010. Only four of the state’s 120 counties saw declines in the numbers; most places had seen increases that reached as high as 283 percent in one rural county.

The reason for the increase, an editorial in the paper said, was drugs. “Nine times out of 10 for us, it is substance-abuse issues,” said Stacie Noble, who oversees a program that assists grandparents raising their grandchildren for the Kentucky River Area Development District in southeastern Kentucky. 

• There’s a farmers market outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, D.C. A check of one of the chicken producers selling there found pathogens on his birds. If the chicken wasn’t cooked properly, it could have been a problem. 

That incident has prompted a Washington Post story on food safety. The story is about how small food producers may be no safer than large ones. In fact:

Benjamin Chapman, a food-safety specialist at North Carolina State University, said that in some cases small farms may be less safe. “We’re finding that there’s less pressure on a vendor at a [farmers] market to implement risk reduction because the perception is that the product is safe already,” he said. “At a grocery store, growers have all these specifications they have to hit, but that’s absent in the farmers market.”

• There will be a union vote Wednesday at IKEA’s only U.S. plant, which is in Danville, Virginia. The 320 workers at the Swedish furniture plant will vote whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

• An Alaska company is shutting down six weekly newspapers serving rural and Alaska Native communities. Calista Corp. announced Friday that increasing costs of fuel, paper and printing led to the decision to close the papers.

The weeklies in the chain include the Arctic Sounder, the Bristol Bay Times, the Cordova Times, the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, the Seward Phoenix Log and the award-winning Tundra Drums, which the Alaska Press Association voted the state’s best weekly newspaper this year. The last issues will be sometime in August. 

• Deere and Co. is worried that proposals to build more cell towers in rural America will wreck the use of global-positioning systems in farm equipment. 

• The New York Times reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent hundreds of million of dollars making the Missouri River suitable for navigation — but few people are using the river for shipping. 

A. G. Sulzberger reports that conflicting demands on the river — as source of water for recreation, to protect endangered species, for shipping — have diluted the goal of flood protection. The result, say some, is the flood of 2011. 

Kansas has an interesting experiment that has opened a small medical school campus in Salina in the hopes of teaching young medical students how to practice rural medicine. 

The theory is that if med students get used to living in rural Kansas — maybe pick up a spouse who likes living in small towns — then they will be more likely to set up practice there after graduation.

• Christie Wilcox writes a “mythbusters” column for Scientific American and last week she took on organic foods.

For instance, organic farms do use pesticides. (They’re organic pesticides.) Organic foods are no healthier than conventionally grown products. Etc. 

Grist answers here

• New York Times food writer Mark Bittman says that if we are eating (and drinking) too much that is bad for us, then the surest way to curb this behavior is to tax it. Look here and don’t miss the truly astounding chart showing the average per capita intake of carbonated drinks. 

 

 

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