Green Ideology Trumps Flood Control

As late as April of 2011, the Water Management Chief for the Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, expressed an opinion in an e-mail to a concerned citizen that the mountain snowmelt this year would "be nothing to write home about."   This internal e-mail, among many others recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request by Gannett's Washington Bureau, exposes that assertion as a gross misstatement of known facts.

The e-mails reveal that a cadre of hydrologists, engineers, and National Weather Service (NWS) officials had repeatedly warned the chief, Ms. Jody Farhat, beginning in January about the danger posed by up to 500% higher-than-normal snowpack looming in the mountains above.  Multiple sources also informed the Corps that the snow had an abnormally high water content, which, combined with NWS reports of soil saturation levels of 99% in much of the Dakotas and nearly all of Montana, greatly added to the likelihood of epic flooding.   Even the Corps headquarters in Washington warned Ms. Farhat about the growing danger.  She dismissed their concerns.

Under her direction, the Corps plodded along, conducting business as usual right up until the last moment, when conditions forced a radical shift from an all-is-well status to an ark-building emergency almost overnight.

Confronted by the worst flooding in the history of the Missouri River Basin, Farhat attempts to deflect criticism by claiming that the snowpack was "just a bit above normal" until mid-April, when it "skyrocketed."  According to data found at the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center website (operated by the NWS), it wasn't the snowpack that skyrocketed; it was the Corps estimate of it that rose dramatically.  The snow was already there.  How did the Corps miss it?  One possible explanation is that they had their focus directed elsewhere.

A front-line operational manager expressed his concern to Ms. Farhat that the information being passed on to the Corps decision-makers was routinely ignored, worrying that if such a dismissive attitude continued, the managers "will not even bother to call in, or provide input, if they feel like they're not being heard."

He continued, "We're all concerned about being in our exclusive flood control zones ... but what concerns me more is the feedback that I'm hearing: 'It doesn't matter what we say so we may as well keep our mouths shut.'"  Farhat's response was that the operations managers don't have a "system-wide perspective."

Even now, amidst the most prolonged flooding ever seen on the "Big Muddy," the Corps continues to peddle the story that this was an unremarkable year until the advent of extraordinarily strong spring rains in the Montana reach of the Missouri River basin.  "And what happened was we had this incredible rainfall event, that was a rainfall event in May, and that was the game-changer in terms of system operations," Farhat said.

In an interview with the Omaha World Herald, Farhat said that these rains created an additional 4 to 5 million acre-feet (MAF) of runoff, pushing the dam system past its tipping point and leaving the Corps with no alternative but to pass water through the system at the historic rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second.  However, at that rate of release, the supposedly culpable spring rains would have been evacuated from the system in less than two weeks.

The Corps began releasing water at this rate at the beginning of June and will continue to do so until the latter part of August.  By the time this is over, the Corps will have evacuated more than ten times the amount of water contained in those offending spring rains.  Thankfully, the dams hold water better than the Corps story.

The evidence seems to point to the Corps becoming tragically distracted from its essential mission.  Flood control has been pushed farther down the list of priorities to make room for eco-system restoration.  While busily pretending to be Mother Nature, chasing the green dream of a river restored to some amorphously defined pre-dam state, the Corps ignored the reality of a leviathan catastrophe.  It appears that we no longer have a Corps of Engineers operating a flood-control system, but rather a fish and wildlife agency that dabbles in flood-control.

Farhat asserts that the agency made no mistakes and has managed releases in accordance with its manual.  "We are getting questions like, 'You saw the snow, so why didn't you release more?'  In the manual it doesn't make a difference.  We reached right where we needed to be," Farhat said, referring to reservoir levels measured on March 1.  "The way the manual is written, that's always the target.  It's not like we have a target here or there depending on wet or dry years."  If water levels do not need to fluctuate based on wet or dry conditions, then perhaps we can just install a simple automatic ball-float somewhere in the reservoir and call it a day.

Instead, we have a behemoth arm of the federal government so enraptured by ecological fantasy that they spend nearly $73 million a year on restoring fish and bird habitat, and only $6 million annually on flood prevention and control.

A priority shift is overdue, and the environmental left is already working toward gaining control of that shift when the water recedes.  Declaiming responsibility for their hand in this flood, the greens are attempting to shift the blame to the original Flood Control Act of 1944.

In a recent editorial, a pair of environmentalist lawyers-turned-college professors (what a surprise) tells us that the rules guiding the Corps are outdated, having not been revised since their origin in 1944.  Conveniently, they fail to mention that their fellow travelers in the environmentalist left completely overhauled the entire system in 2006 by rewriting the Master Water Control Manual to reflect and further their cultural and biodiversity goals of "eco-system restoration."

The Corps is dancing to the chanting of American Rivers, the Sierra Club, and numerous other left-of-center environmental lobbying groups, working toward "reconnecting the river to its floodplain."  According to this green-trendy concept, a slow, meandering river poses no threat -- only the channelized "ditch" created by man's interference is dangerous.

In a previous article, I examined the upended priorities of the Corps as written in the revised Master Manual.  The dam system is now being utilized to mimic the natural flows of the pre-dam river in the name of returning the river to some pre-human state of nature.

What is meant by this "reconnecting" catchphrase?  The definition is readily apparent in a Missouri river that has spread out to more than 11 miles wide in places.  Entire towns are inundated.  Neighborhoods in towns that predated the dams themselves now lie beneath the surface of the water, victims of a river "reconnected to its floodplain."

The eco-restorationists are shamelessly touting the spectacular flood control benefits derived from their reconnection strategy.  What they do not say is that their strategy does not control flooding in any commonly understood sense.  It simply doesn't allow humans to be where flooding has ever occurred.  Should they be allowed to continue, entire reaches of the river, stretching from bluff to bluff, hundreds of thousands of square miles worth, would become no-go areas for humans, unless of course you are an environmentalist engaging in some study or experiment.  For this, we lose our homes and property.

The idea that educated men and women can become so enamored of a theory as to become inured to the suffering of fellow humanity is barely conceivable to principled minds.  We laypeople always assume we must be missing something -- some important tidbit of evidence unavailable to us, but known to the experts.  Indeed, at times, this is the case.  While we want to believe that our experts tell us the truth, all too often, those with agendas use that desire to deceive us.  Frighteningly, this appears to be one such time when an agenda is transcendent.  Let the investigations begin without delay.

The author writes from Omaha, NE and welcomes comments at his website,

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