'You're going to have trouble....'
Editor's Note: Last Thursday, Missouri Farmers Union President (and Daily Yonder columnist) Richard Oswald was asked by Rep. Russ Carnahan to brief members of Congress and staff on this year's flooding along the Missouri River. Below is Oswald's testimony.
Thanks to Congressman Carnahan and his staff for giving me the opportunity to share my flood of 2011 experience.
Currently my wife Linda and I, and our grandson Ryan are out of our home near Langdon, Missouri, due to flooding. The house where we live is where I was born. It is the only home I have ever known, built by my parents in 1939.
My home has seen three floods. The first was in 1952 when excessive snow melt to the north placed too much stress on our recently constructed Missouri River levee system in Atchison County. The levees failed, and my parents, my sister, and I were forced to evacuate. After about 2 weeks the water had receded enough for us to return home. Despite everything, Dad was still able to plant and harvest a good crop.
Following the 1952 flood, the levee system protected our farm for 41 years. In 1993, our farm was flooded a second time when excessive rainfall hammered the Missouri Valley. Our levees held until mid July when rain along the Missouri and its tributaries was too much, even though releases from Gavin’s Point Dam were cut to nearly nothing.
Two weeks after the levee failure Linda and I were able to return home. In another week we moved back into our house where we continued to reside until this year.
Water levels, determined by the height of the levee to our south, were nearly identical at our house in both floods at about 6 inches below the main floor.
Early in 2010 while conducting an interview for a weekly column I write as a special correspondent for Data Transmission Network, I heard from a farmer in South Dakota that the lakes created by dams on the Missouri were excessively high. “You’re going to have trouble,” he said.
We had several weeks of watchful waiting along the river in 2010, but our levee held as the lakes up north filled even more. Water flows in the Missouri river near my home returned to normal. We harvested a good crop. River levels remained about average throughout the fall and winter of 2010/2011. But anxiety about water levels and snowfall to the north grew.
By early spring the Corps was telling us to expect flooding and Corps representatives visited our community of Rock Port with predictions of alarmingly high water levels. Corps spokesmen instructed city officials to prepare vulnerable city water supplies for a flood that would exceed the depth of the 1952 and 1993 floods by eight feet or more.
Linda Oswald Those of us with a long history on the river bottom were puzzled by those predicted water levels. I became convinced that the Corps must be planning for an all out maximum release of 550,000 cubic feet per second at Gavin’s Point — or that they expected one or more of the dams to fail.
Those predictions never came true, but it seems apparent that the Corps of Engineers was nearly as helpless as the rest of us.
Releases from dams in the system grew steadily. After overflowing for several days, on or about June 24 our levee failed west of Watson, Missouri. Linda and I evacuated our home the next day, and other than trips overhead by airplane or across the water by boat, we have been unable to return.
It has been more than a month and water continues to flow across our land and around our house. We have no expectation of being able to return home anytime soon. Estimates are for the flood to subside enough for that by late August or September.
We have lost most of our crop. Nearly all of it on the river bottom is gone. That crop represents an investment both in terms of dollars and hard work. Conservation work we’ve done for nutrient management is wasted. Crop-residue cover in our no-till fields has washed away. We fear many soil organisms we rely on are lost. If Gulf Hypoxia was a concern before, this has certainly made it worse. Damage to our fields and levees is undetermined but will surely cost tens of millions to repair.
At a time when corn and soybean prices flirt with all time highs, the income we and our landlord partners have lost amounts to what could be more than one million dollars. My county has lost no less than 65,000 acres of crops. Counties to our north and south have lost as many or more. Many of those acres here in the valley are highly productive irrigated acres.
Our small community has suffered mightily. No less than 100 jobs have been lost from a town of 1,200. Our town has spent thousands of unreimbursed dollars to protect both city and rural water supplies. Local volunteers gave days of their lives working to protect our property, running heavy equipment, hauling food and water to workers, and filling sandbags and laying them on the levees.
People who commuted from one side of the river to the other by way of the Highway 136 bridge at Brownville, Nebraska, now face commutes of more than two hours each way.
A truck repair shop at Rock Port laid off half its employees because highway closures have reduced traffic and business.
A brand new $20 million grain elevator that just began operations this year is surrounded by water. One and half million bushels of grain are trapped there by the river.
Missouri National Guardsmen from across the state have put their lives on hold to protect our property.
All of us view the future with uncertainty as we wait to see if river management will return to something more balanced by emphasizing flood control and navigation as important priorities on the Missouri River.