Flood Damage High From Lack of Warning

Source: By Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor • Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Iowa Officials Question Corps Communication as River Destruction Increases

A road is washed out and a bridge that normally goes over Interstate 29 is now a storage spot for equipment above the water. At least 40 miles of Interstate 29 in Iowa are underwater. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

In 2011, heavy rains and flooding in the northern Missouri River watershed led to months of river-bottom flooding from North Dakota into Missouri. Residents and officials in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri had more forewarning and time to react and prepare for that flood. This time around, flash floods swept through much of Nebraska and parts of South Dakota, filling dozens of tributaries rapidly into the Missouri River above and below dams. And more levees became compromised because of the swiftness of the water flow and rapid snowmelt.

County officials lamented it will be difficult to farm most of the ground that has been flooded this year. There were thousands of acres along the Missouri River that did not get harvested last fall because of wet conditions.

“A lot of this land will not be touched this year because they will not dry out,” said Richard Crouch, a Mills County supervisor, adding it could take years to re-establish crops because of sand and debris that will pour in from the river.

Reynolds noted there were problems over the weekend with state officials getting information on flooding from the Corps of Engineers because of the way federal officials were sending information through the Department of Homeland Security.

“I talked to them about this on Saturday that it’s just not acceptable that we can’t have the communications back and forth,” Reynolds said. “It’s timely. We have to be able to get the information out and get the resources there, be able to issue disaster procs (proclamations) to free up additional resources to coordinate things and work together.”

Beyond the Corps’ control, though, was the inflow from the Platte River into the Missouri River. Where they join, the Missouri River was moving 350,000 cubic feet per second.

Mills County officials lamented lost businesses along the river, including a new truck stop and separate convenience store that both opened last year and are now both underwater. Local officials have been pressing federal officials for better levee protection, especially since a new bridge was built connecting Iowa and Nebraska that opened up five years ago. They rattled off hundreds of millions in lost equipment from various businesses, as well as farm ground.

“We’re talking about millions of acres that are gone,” Vinton said.

Glenwood’s water-treatment plant along the river bottom was closed Monday morning because flooding forced the electrical utility to shut down power to the plant, requiring the town of about 6,000 to rely on its towers for water, at least temporarily.

“I believe the water towers in town are full and we can stretch it, hopefully,” said Ron Kohn, Glenwood’s mayor. “People will figure out how to get by.”

Reynolds was working to get the damage details documents to submit a request to the Trump administration for a federal disaster declaration. Reynolds said she was also coordinating with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and his staff to assure a strong federal response. She said she wants Corps maintenance funding redirected to speed up federal technical work to rebuild and improve levees.

“We need significant assistance from the Corps and we need it tomorrow,” Reynolds said. She later added, “We need to talk about this now as a region. We need to attack it from that perspective, and that will also help with some of the funding.”

The Missouri River and several of its tributaries are expected to crest Monday or Tuesday as the Army Corps of Engineers dialed back flow releases from a South Dakota dam over the weekend and most of the most-threatened areas went without rain.

On the Nebraska side, roughly one-third of Offutt Air Force base was underwater, including about 3,000 feet of runway, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Farther west and north in Nebraska, receding waters over the weekend revealed devastated towns, farms and homes, as well as roads and bridges destroyed by raging rivers. The storms began last week with a combination of snow, heavy rain and temperatures just warm enough to melt off months of snow in a matter of hours. Ice chunks remained in some areas, but that threat has declined.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com