Tuesday Roundup: A Dam Mistake

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Residents along the Upper Missouri River are filling sandbags in preparation for a flood. (See the Pierre (S.D.) Capital Journal for good coverage.)  

Writer Paul VanDevelder, meanwhile, tells how he thinks we got into this mess to begin with. He begins by telling of the decision in the 1940s to build a series of dams on the Missouri:

What began on the upper Missouri River in 1951 is playing out this month in the flooding of the lower Mississippi and dozens of communities in its delta. This is a man-made disaster, the legacy of an earlier generation of politicians, farmers and ranchers who made a lot of bad (and very expensive) decisions to correct short-term problems on the Missouri River when the best available science — including findings in a 1934 corps report — warned Congress that those solutions would create dire long-term consequences….

Foreshadowing the warnings of 21st century hydrologists, (Maj. Gen. Lytle) Brown (in 1934) predicted that damming the upper Missouri would make management of the Mississippi — and protection of New Orleans — almost impossible in big runoff years. He cautioned lawmakers that given the underlying geology of the region and the notorious siltation issues associated with the river, only madmen would build dams above Sioux City, Iowa.

But three huge Missouri River floods in 1943 carried away towns, livestock, bridges, farmhouses and sound reasoning, and brought the madmen back to the table. Dry-land farmers were promised a million acres of irrigation if they would back Pick-Sloan. They backed it en masse, but those irrigation projects have never been built. Two dozen tribes were dispersed and relocated, with devastating consequences that they live with to this day. Garrison Dam, large enough to capture five times the annual flow of the Colorado River, is today so compromised by the siltation problems Brown warned about that the dam could be useless within two generations. Water behind those dams — brimful this spring — has only one place to go: downstream into an already swollen Mississippi.

Our legacy to the next generations is a catalogue that bristles with similar narratives. Are we never going to learn that the flotsam of our invincible ignorance will always come back to haunt us on a rising tide?

You’ll find a very different outlook on flood control in tomorrow’s Yonder.

•Whenever budgets get short, governments think they can save lots of money by consolidating small school districts or cities. 

Bloomberg reports that Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are all thinking of ways of closing and consolidating small units of government. 

• The Daily Yonder 40 stock index gained 1.5 percentage points last week and is now up 9.7% for the year.

The DY 40 consists of 40 stocks that reflect the rural economy — from retail to energy to ag to banking. Since we began the DY 40 in 2007, the rural stock index has consistently run ahead of the Dow 30 and the S&P 500.

In 2011, the Dow is up 7.5% and the S&P 500 has risen 5.8%, both considerably behind the Yonder 40.

• This comes up every four years: What difference do the Iowa caucuses make since the state is so, well, rural?

Or, as the Washington Post asked, “(A)s the GOP looks to defeat an African American president who mobilized record numbers of young and minority voters four years ago, how relevant are the preferences of 200,000 or so caucusgoers in a rural state that is overwhelmingly white and significantly older than average?” 

By the way, there is no answer to this question. 

• Trade disputes are heating up. Last week, the World Trade Organization came to an initial conclusion that country of origin labeling (COOL) for meat violated trade rules.

Now the European Union has set new rules that could hurt U.S. soybean farmers selling their goods to Europe. Philip Brasher writes that the EU rules would exclude soybeans as a feedstock for European biodiesel. (Soybeans don’t reduce greenhouse gases as much as other feedstocks.) And the EU rules would require that sellers have the ability to trace beans back to their farm of origin. That’s not possible now in the U.S.

Walmart is headed for South Africa.

The U.S. company (and member of the Daily Yonder 40 stock index) is buying a South African chain (Makro) for $2.4 billion. The company has agreed to spend about $14 million over the next three years to help farmers and other South African suppliers learn how to do business with the giant retailer. 

• And praise here for Walmart’s environmental policies on the editorial page of the L.A. Times. 

 

 

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