Un-anticipated flooding? Not so fast….

From the American Thinker:

At the time of this writing, the Corps is scrambling for political cover, repeatedly denying that it had any advance warning of the potential for this catastrophe.  The official word is that everything was just fine until unexpectedly heavy spring rains pushed the system past the tipping point.

On February 3, 2011,series of e-mails from Ft. Pierre SD Director of Public Works Brad Lawrence sounded the alarm loud and clear.  In correspondence to the headquarters of the American Water Works Association in Washington, D.C., Lawrence warned that “the Corps of Engineers has failed thus far to evacuate enough water from the main stem reservoirs to meet normal runoff conditions. This year’s runoff will be anything but normal.”

In the same e-mail, he describes the consequences of the Corps failure to act as a “flood of biblical proportions.”  His e-mails were forwarded from Washington, D.C. to state emergency response coordinators nationwide.  The Corps headquarters in Omaha, NE which is responsible for the Missouri river system, claims they heard no such warning from Lawrence or anyone else.  Considering the wide distribution of this correspondence, and the likely reactions from officials in endangered states, their denials strain credulity.

The article cited faults the pro-environmental movement for rearranging the priorities of the Corps’ Master Manual.  There are certainly statements from Corps employees that would support that conclusion — including Yankton Corps employee Greg Pavelka:

Greg Pavelka, a wildlife biologist with the Corps of Engineers in Yankton, SD, told the Seattle Times that this event will leave the river in a “much more natural state than it has seen in decades,” describing the epic flooding as a “prolonged headache for small towns and farmers along its path, but a boon for endangered species.”  He went on to say, “The former function of the river is being restored in this one-year event. In the short term, it could be detrimental, but in the long term it could be very beneficial.”

Maybe Mr. Pavelka is a “glass half full” kind of guy and is just looking for the positive out of this situation — which is okay if the wildlife is your top priority (and it is his–see his job title)

However, it seems most of the people who live and work along the river think flood control is the highest priority…..I guess someone missed that memo too.

41 Replies to “Un-anticipated flooding? Not so fast….”

  1. dissident

    Even if they had drawn down they’d be at this output by now anyway. The pallid sturgeon is a bit of a red herring, i’m afraid. Downstream barge traffic trumped environmental delays this year. Remember that the corps owns 24% of the hydropower in the US; selling that electricity is why they wield so much sway in Congress. Think Roy Blunt.

  2. Troy Jones

    Three points:

    1) The Corp is releasing about 150,000 cubic feet per second and has to do it over 2.5 months to solve the problem.

    2) A significant part of the work around Pierre/Yankton/Dunes would have to have been done if the releases were above 100,000 cubic feet. So let’s assume 90,000 cfs is the maximum non-flood release (I don’t know. Just speculating)

    3) Before they stepped up the releases, they were averaging I think around 50,000 cfs which is normal for springtime.

    4) Assuming they released 50K cfs for Feb (when the emails were sent), Mar, April and May, and 150K for June, July and Aug, the dams will have averaged about 93 cfs. on average over the period.

    5) Thus, to have avoided, the Corp would have had to immediately when the first email was written take releases to record levels to get close to requiring most of the dyke work anyway, cause the flooding Omaha and Iowa are experiencing as early as February and make them sustain it for 7 months, and cause flooding in lower Missouri at the same time they were having record drainage into the Mississippi.

    While I’m highly sensitive to this problem as I have two close relatives (aunt and cousin) who have had to evacuate their houses in Pierre, I have a hard time being excessively hard on the Corp.

    Might they have started this maybe a month earlier? Yes. Would it have made a material difference? No because the average releases would still have to be above 100K cfs over the summer causing nearly the same effect, over a longer period.

    1. feasant

      If the Corps would have taken the Plains snowpack into consideration, instead of raising the level of Oahe this winter and released water, we would not have had to go to this extreme. The Corps is a perfect example of big Government, unresponsive, knows more than the common fok, arrogant, and too big to function properly.

      I also heard that they were releasing record amounts of water out of Shadehill, reservoir by Lemmon, SD. They were going to do some scheduled maintenance? If this is true, every member of the Corps should be fired.

  3. J Rae

    Troy is dead on. What I’m wondering is why the emails were sent to the American Water Works Association whose stated purpose has nothing to do with floods or river management and not the Corp of Engineers? The gentleman works for the state, did he call or email the governor? His chief of staff? His state legislator? Or God forbid, the Corp?

    If he knew that there was an impending disaster of “Biblical” proportions you gotta think he’d tell someone besides the safe water people. Also, if we are talking Biblical, shouldn’t we all be headed for an Ark?

    I don’t always agree with the government, but for those that hate them…go ahead and send them home now and tell them we don’t need no stinking help…or their money!

    By the way, when Janklow sued the Corp for not keeping enough water for recreation in SD, did he win?

    Here’s a good story out of Bloomberg Business Week that might give those who think that the river begins and ends in SD a little more perspective.


  4. J Rae

    By the way, who is the “American Thinker?” Are they a credible source for this type of issue? Did they interview hydrologists? The Corp?

    Looked at the site briefly and trying to figure out if they pride themselves on journalism or political rhetoric.

  5. PlanningStudent

    “Releases at higher-than-normal rates early in the season that cannot be supported by runoff forecasting techniques is inconsistent with all System purposes other than flood control. All of the other authorized purposes depend upon the accumulation of water in the System rather than the availability of vacant storage space.”

    The author uses this quote as a centerpiece but when I read it, I see that it completely disproves his thesis that environmentalism and the spring pulse contributed to the flood. I may agree that in general mans attempt to tame mother nature and/or human nature is well intended but always fails. But seriously this quote about the spring pulse says that it (the spring pulse/enviromental policy) conflicted with every priority of the dams other than (except for) flood control. All other priorities require the storage of water for later use. The spring pulse required water be released in the spring regardless of whether downstream wanted it or upstream had it. This caused the Oahe to empty out during the drought. I don’t see how it contributed to our current situation.

  6. J Rae

    Thanks PlanningStudent. Just guessing that the detractors of the Army will weigh in and prove your reasoning to be incorrect. Funny that the same people who respect our military are the same ones that are demonizing this branch of our national defense system.

    Like anyone else, I don’t always agree with our military. But I will defend and respect them for their service. Just seems strange that the faux patriots will pick and choose which part of the military they choose to support.

    1. caheidelberger

      Excellent point, J Rae. If I badmouthed the Army the way some of these folks do on their pet issues, these same folks would calling for my deportation for un=American activity.

  7. J Rae

    So to make sure that the public is properly informed we should have every email, phone call or other correspondence between the state or municipality and the Army Corp of Engineers made public and that all memos from the Corp to the state and local officials made public. Then we will know how to best judge how well we were prepared to deal with the floods. Not to mention where we decide to place the blame that we are all so eager to find the culprit to be our scapegoat.

    I’m sure that the current and previous administrations will gladly release this information.

    1. Name

      The sad thing is there is no sharing of information coming from the Corp. Couple that with what has been a planned flood with no warning and it’s no wonder people are questioning what happened. There was plenty of activity by the Corp earlynthis year and they said nothing. If that isn’t sad as I look at people who’ve lost their homes with only prayers of recovery I don’t know what sad is.

  8. Les

    Troy from what I’ve been hearing all along normal spring releases are 35,000cfs. Your 90,000cfs flood, would be close to 300% not the close to 500% we are experiencing now and not the 200% you are stating. There were time frames the downstream could have handled extra water, and yes the dams were all about flood control at one time.

    Obviously you didn’t mind losing your home in Pierre/Ft Pierre J Rae.

    I don’t understand why you and planning student aren’t on the payroll for the Corp?

  9. man from Pierre

    If you do not think the COE is at fault, what rock do you live under. The number one authorized function of the damn system is flood control. 60 years ago when South Dakotans gave up millions of acres of some of the best farm land in the state, we were assured and assumed this would not happen.
    The COE has messed up very badly and all for a non-existent barge business in Missouri. It is very very poor management and very short sighted when a “10 inch rain” causes this type of flooding.

    1. Mitchell

      Well, Troy and the folks from SF have no clue because Pierre/Ft Pierre had been sandbagging for 3 days before the “news” showed the first picture of people working their tails off to save their property.

      I was disgusted that all that “news” kept showing was the Mike Rounds was worried he might get water, or that Mike Rounds was packing up his new house. Meanwhile there were massive efforts underway to sandbag most of Ft Pierre with not a single word or photo.

    2. Name anonymous

      Who promised you that? Why would the goverment need to bribe people with asurrances when they can take the land under eminent domain? I think you’re mistaken, there wasn’t a promise as you claim. Sounds more like an un-proven rumor.

  10. Mitchell

    Troy (and others)
    You point out that even if the flows were increased in Feb we would still be at this crisis.

    The missed the point of those emails, though. Lawrence wasn’t trying to get the Corp to start releasing water at that time. He was warning other States that it was already too late and that they should prepare for the imminent flood. The Corp should have been releasing water all winter in preparation for the greater than normal snow pack.

    Also, to state that their model failed because they didn’t account for 14 inches of rain – well, what amount of rain did the model anticipate? An additional 4-6 inches (I am assuming) from what they predicted would not cause this problem.

    No matter what you think, their model was broken. No arguments. Whatever the reason. Whatever the excuse. Whatever the thing they didn’t plan for. Their model was flawed – you cannot argue otherwise.

    The truth is the Corp really has no clue what is happening and they are flying by the seat of their pants. Proof? When all of this first started, the Corp had meetings with Pierre/Ft Pierre residents and told them everything was fine. Nothing was going to flood. There may be a few isolated localized flood spots, but nothing to worry about. The very next day they announced that everyone needed to move their belongings and start sandbagging – it was gonna be bad. Within the next few days they again announced it was going to be even worse and raised the inundation levels and release rates to 150,000cfs. A week later, they raise the release rates to 160,000cfs after stating that the rates would stay at 150,000 for weeks.

    The Corp is clueless as to what is going to happen until it is already to late.

    1. Name

      True, my memory, wedn water at a level that won’t go over rip rap, thurs, maybe a little, Friday a bit more-panic, Saturday Katie bar the door. This has been a cluster from the get go. This is man made, pure and simply failure to adequately prepare for spring.

  11. Troy Jones

    A friend who fishes said yesterday to me.

    “I’ve hated to Corp because they let too much water out and I hate them because the didn’t let enough out. But I sure love the dams. They are like my wife. I b**ch about them both but I am glad Igot them”

  12. Guard

    Once again, the Corps is not to blame. When you get a year’s worth of rain in one week as they had in my home state of Montana, then you begin to understand that sometimes even dams can not tame the Mighty Missouri, a force of nature, period.

    1. Name anonymous

      Exactly right! A dam is no match for the power of Mother Nature. If the blamers and finger pointers just have to blame someone, they can blame God. I think PIerre is being punished by Him for all the abortion laws they keep passing, in violation of the will of the majority of the people and the U.S. Constitution.

    1. PlanningStudent

      It seems to me that either Farhat and McMahon are bold face lying and the CoE is responsible or you believe the facts and figures they are presenting and this flood is the result of Mother Nature.

      If you haven’t read this interview, do so…

      If you are frustrated by how some of us aren’t buying all this blame the CoE talk then please present me with some facts and figures..

      As far as Rounds and Janklow: Rounds is just mad about his house. Janklow is just a lawyer looking for a big case. Remember last time he sued the CoE? It was b/c they weren’t holding back enough water and the reservoirs were too low, ironic don’t ya think…

      1. Les

        Comparing the COE releasing too much water in the middle of a drouth to float a few barges versus this mess stands with little merit PS.

        Not a bad interview if it is 100% believable, which it is probably more true than not, though it carries COE’s slant, and slant it does. We shall see how it washes out when these two testify before congress under oath.

        1. PlanningStudent

          That is my point sir, first Janklow sues to maintain certain (higher) levels behind the damns for recreation now he wants to sue because maintaining those levels may have diminished their ability to accommodate unexpected flood water…

  13. cut man

    So many people have to find blame for everything as they have so much greed and hate in heart. They can not except that the top controller has more power than they do and they can not except that the Lord all mighty is truely in control of the world not mortal man……………

    1. Name

      I give up. The lord all mighty doesn’t control whetherbyou drive 90 or 65, you do. The lord doesn’t control if you supersize your fries, if you text while driving or have unprotected sex. The Corp has management responsibilities for the taxpayers damns, we shall see if they were negligent, willfully or grossly or otherwise, in their management. The lords rain is a factor in what happened, but to believe it is the only one is naive.

        1. grudznick

          My god says that you should be responsible for your own actions and not blame others, or her, or any of the magic statues on your mantle to which you pray.

          I am reminded of that time when we had a great gubernatorial candidate who overgodded on us like a labrador puppy with his head stuck in an applesauce jar.

  14. grudznick

    Whats this business about Oblamacare not getting referred here in South Dakota? PP would be all over this, if he hadn’t kill this blog. Somebody should mention it though.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.