I am writing in response to the January 2, 2020, opinion by Mr. Anthony Brown, ‘’My Point Exactly: Let the river be what it is”
In his opinion, Mr. Brown made it clear he has guzzled the Kool-aid served up by those who believe the best flood control is NO flood control. He says, “The Missouri River must be allowed to recreate its old channels, slews, towheads, oxbows, lowland timber stands and wetlands. That is the only approach that will temper the kind of massive devastation we’ve seen over the past decade. “ Sadly, this is exactly what the River tried to do throughout the past spring, summer and fall. The result was not some kind of pleasant, wonderful, meandering stream envisioned by environmental groups and uneducated River experts. On the contrary, billions of dollars of damage resulted. We once again saw the effects of a deteriorating and misused flood control system.
The Missouri River was once a highly engineered river system. The flood control system along the Missouri River was built by those who Tom Brokaw refers to as “The Greatest Generation”. The generation of my Grandfather. This generation lived through the depression, floods, droughts, and wars. They understood what it meant to be hungry and go without food. They understood the importance of feeding the world and they understood the importance of flood control to protect farmland and communities along the River. In their day, Congress worked together to provide flood control along the Missouri River. The 1944 Flood Control Act authorized the construction of the system of dams, levees, and flood control infrastructure completed in the mid-sixties. This system was designed and built by some of the best engineers in the world at the time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And the system worked!
Indeed, it did work. Along with flood control came a safe navigable river and many other economic benefits, which developed because the flood control system was put in place. The engineers were smart and forward thinking. The used boots on the ground experience, science, math and engineering skills to develop a system praised as the greatest and largest system of dams and flood control in the world. During the following decades, the system protected cities, communities and farmland. There were a few floods along the way, but nothing like what we have seen over the past 10 years. For the most part the flood control system operated as designed. But something has changed.
The system we have today is no longer the same system built by the Greatest Generation. In fact, it has been dramatically changed. Not only has the physical infrastructure been modified and systematically dismantled, but the way the reservoirs are operated has changed as well. Today’s flood control system is failing on the Missouri River and we are paying a terrible price. The Kool-aid served by biologist, bird-watchers and professors in colleges and schools far from the Missouri River has found its way to the Missouri River. The River has become a giant science experiment. Fish and bird experiments over the past decade have decimated, dikes, revetments and structures used to direct the flow of the river. The structures have been cut, notched, or removed. The way releases are handled from the reservoirs has also been modified. The result is exactly what Mr. Brown wrote about in his opinion. “The Missouri flooded during six of the last 10 years, three times in 2019 alone. Flood damage for the year along more than 500 miles of river valley will cost billions to fix.” It is time to stop the science experiments and get back to a system which can provide flood control and valuable economic benefits to the country. Flood control infrastructure, nationwide, has taken a backseat to those mixing the Kool-aid. Congress chooses to spend billions upon billions on flood recovery and, in comparison, very little on flood prevention. Levees damaged during the recent flood will only be repaired to their pre-flood level of protection. Little to no improvements will be made to the system. So, even after the devastating flood we have just experienced, the system will be no stronger, and will in all likelihood provide less protection than it did prior to the 2019 flood event. Members of the Greatest Generation and their forefathers lived with no flood control along the Missouri River. They worked hard to build a system to protect valuable farmland, and growing communities. Today we have a choice, let the river be and continue with the destructive science experiments or provide protection through improved infrastructure. The latter was the choice of our forefathers and it worked. What we have been doing over the past decade is clearly not working.
Tom Waters, Chairman Missouri Levee & Drainage District Association
Tom Waters is Chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association. He is a seventh-generation farmer in the Missouri River bottomlands just downstream from Kansas City, Missouri.