Opinion: Corps’ non-structural flood-control remedies ‘sickening’

Tom Waters

Orrick farmer Tom Waters, chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, recently attended the Missouri River Flood Task Force Meeting in Denver. He delivered this letter to Brigadier Gen. John McMahon of the Corps of Engineers.

General McMahon:

Since May, I have been traveling and talking to various groups. I spoke at city council meetings, Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, business meetings and to various other groups talking about this year’s flooding. I have been one of the Corps’ few supporters this summer.
I showed graphs of the snow pack and rainfall and explained how the reservoirs got too full and why water needed to be released at record levels. I spoke to groups fed up with the Corps of Engineers. I heard from meteorologists about how the flood didn’t need to happen.  I heard the conspiracy theories and cries of foul and poor Corps management. All the while, I stood by the Corps of Engineers and the difficult job you had managing the high inflows.
I have supported the Corps up to now, but I can not support the path you are currently taking with levee repairs. I was sickened to hear Corps leaders talk about non-structural alternatives to levee repairs, moving communities out of the floodplain and in your words using this task force to “seize the opportunity to shape the future of the floodplain”.
Dusting off the Galloway Report and digging out an old memo from the Clinton Administration was the last straw for me. I am frustrated by the Corps’ lack of progress following the 2011 Flood Event and I am frustrated you chose this location for today’s meeting.
It is ironic we are sitting in the Mile High City talking about seizing the opportunity to shape the future of the floodplain – the floodplain along the Missouri River, which flooded Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, not Denver, Colorado! General, there were times this year I thought you might release enough water to flood Denver, Colorado, but to the best of my knowledge no one in Denver was flooded by the Missouri River.
I want to take this opportunity to challenge you to have the integrity to hold this next meeting of green bureaucratic agency representatives in Missouri. Hold this meeting designed to make decisions, which will do even further damage to people’s lives, in Holt or Atchison County, in Missouri, where people were flooded!
Allow those who were flooded along the River to see your face when you tell them your plans to implement the ridiculous ideas found in the Galloway Report. Sir, just flying over Holt and Atchison counties is not the same as being there. I encourage you to climb down out of the helicopter and put your boots on the ground. You need to see the stress in the people’s faces and hear the concern and worry in their voices. These people desperately need your help. They do not need the misguided ideas of the Galloway Report shoved down their throats.
If you must continue down this path, I believe each member of the task force should visit with the people who have been flooded this year. General, you and the members of the task force need to actually smell the devastation and walk through the mud that has filled the homes of those shattered by water released from the reservoir system. The task force needs to ask those property owners what they think about non-structural alternatives and turning their front yards into mosquito-invested swamps.
General McMahon, it is NOT your decision to decide IF you are going to fix the levees.  Your job is to decide HOW you are going to fix the levees. Congress agreed to build the federal levees along the Missouri River.  Through Public Law 84-99 Congress agreed to repair the federal and non-federal levees when flooding damages them. Quite frankly, you are wasting valuable time here today.  You need to stop wasting your time on this task force and do your job. And clearly your job should be to repair the levees as soon as possible.
There is a reason the Galloway Report sat on a shelf for 17 years. Congress did not bless the report. No, Congress approved flood control projects and voted to repair levees.  You also should not rely on an outdated memo from the 1997 Clinton Administration as a reason to make drastic changes to the floodplain and more importantly to the lives of those who live, have businesses, and own property in the floodplain. The Galloway Report did not fly in 1994 and it will not fly today. It and the CEQ McGinty memo should be returned to the dumpster behind the White House, where theyhas been sitting the past 17 years.
I said it at a Corps of Engineers’ hearing in 2001 and I’ll say it again here today. My farm is not a laboratory and I don’t wish to be a guinea pig. Those flooded by reservoir releases want their lives back. They want and need their levee protection restored. They do not want to be guinea pigs in the Corps’ and Fish and Wildlife Service’s super-sized science experiments.
General, I think it was a poor decision to hold this meeting in Denver. You say you want to be open, transparent and collaborative. You can start by at least holding the meetings in areas impacted by the flooding, so members of those communities can participate, see and hear what decisions you are forcing on them.  You can also start by focusing on your job at hand, repairing levees, not turning farmland into fish and wildlife laboratories.
There is a lot of work to be done.  Holding meetings like this won’t get the levees repaired.  I suggest you stop traveling down the Galloway path and get to work!

– Tom Waters, Chairman
Missouri Levee & Drainage District Association

One Response to Opinion: Corps’ non-structural flood-control remedies ‘sickening’

  1. Jerry Lester

    October 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    This is telling it like it apparently is. If so, it is shameful to pretend you are open and aboveboard. Tom Waters has been reporting daily for months on what is happening and what we could expect. Hopefully, other areas along the Missouri River have representatives as honest and dedicated to get the truth out as he has been.

    Why does the Army Corps remain so private and hidden?

    Jerry Lester

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