Are environmental concerns making the Nebraska floods worse?

I’m no hydrologist, but this article‘s claims about the current Nebraska floods sound plausible.

The Master Water Control Manual is the bible of the Missouri River basin dam system.  It defines the duties and protocols to be followed in order to best meet the various needs represented in the list of priorities.

From the completion of the dam construction (in 1967) until 2004, the Master Water Control Manual listed the priority functions in order of importance, with flood control being number one.

1) flood control
2) irrigation and upstream beneficial uses
3) downstream water supply
4) navigation and power
5) recreation and wildlife

In 2004, under pressure from environmentalist organizations who had been lobbying hard for the previous decade, Congress approved a revision to the manual that no longer specifically prioritized the uses of the system, leaving the order of the functions to the discretion of the Corps of Engineers.

. . .

The “engineers,” guided by the Endangered Species Act, not the Flood Control Act, bank water throughout the fall and winter, preparing to release it in spring to mimic nature with a sort of controlled flood.

Sometimes they get away with the gamble, but other times nature intrudes on their Gaia-worshiping skit and provides a stark reminder that “playing God” and “being God” are quite different things, indeed.  Nature lets loose with the real thing in the form of heavy snowfalls, heavier than normal rains, or a super-thaw from a rapid increase in temperatures and a wind-driven warm rainfall that rid thousands of square miles of an average three feet of snowpack in roughly 36 hours, as happened last week.  And once again, the faux gods were caught short.

Did the Corp cause the current flooding?  In my opinion, no.  However, it greatly contributed to its severity in numerous ways, not the least of which is its influence on the management of smaller tributary rivers and streams throughout the basin — the very rivers and streams that are presently roaming miles from their banks.  The primary reason the Corps deserves a major share of responsibility is its mismanagement of the dam system.  Had they been drawing down water throughout the early winter in anticipation of a higher than normal runoff due to higher than normal snow accumulations in the lower reaches of the basin, then the tributaries presently flooding would have had more room to drain through their natural outlet, the mighty Missouri river.

Would it have eliminated the flooding we see destroying farms, homes, and roads on our televisions (or right outside our own windows!)?  Not entirely, no.  However, it is unarguable that managing the Missouri River mainstem dams with an eye toward flood control above all else would have greatly minimized the severity of the event.

There’s more at the link.

Can more knowledgeable readers enlighten us?  Are such revised policies and/or environmentalist agendas contributing to the current flooding situation, or is it just the result of a more-wet-than-usual winter season?



  1. Some years back, my National Guard unit deployed to Pierre SD to assist with the flooding there. Scuttlebutt at the time seemed to confirm what you were saying about river system management not prioritizing flood control over other things.

    Additionally, cities downstream were lawyering up and refusing to allow dams upstream to release water without FEMA overruling due to emergency status.

  2. My Late Father once told me that he remembered the Army Corps of Engineers testifying before Congress that various project authorized by Congress to ‘control’ flooding long the Missouri and Mississippi rivers would inevitably result in worse and more frequent flooding, and that Congress told the ACE to shut up and do as they were told by their betters.

    This would have been in the 1950’s, I believe.

  3. Considering that mismanagement of Flood Management Control caused a lot of the Houston flooding a couple years ago (um, when a huge storm is approaching, maintaining all the water sources at max level is just kinda stupid, no?) it is perfectly believable that Flood Management Control has its collective head up its posterior and is actually contributing to the issue.

    We see the same thing in California, where their inability to manage water is killing the very things they are trying to protect, and, by the way, can’t wait for the Orville Dam to finally fail because none of the proposed fixes that would actually work were allowed.

  4. For decades ND lobbied ACE to give recreation more emphasis than downstream barge traffic. They were never responsive though. Possibly it took Congress to alter the priority, I’m not sure. But I’m not aware of anyone in ND government that ever argued for less flood control.

    One of the problems (there were many issues) with the Souris River flood of 2011 was that the Canadians were holding more water in their dams for recreation purposes than what was written in the treaty agreement. When the torrential rains hit the watershed, there wasn’t nearly enough storage capacity. Had they kept their water levels where they were supposed to be at, and started drawing down their resevoirs as soon as they realized how much rain came down, there still would have been flooding in ND, but it wouldn’t have been as bad.

    So, is it plausible that the Missouri River is being mis-managed as well? Yup, probably more believable than that they were actually being managed well.

  5. Bear with me, I think I can answer this partly by association.

    It’s related, but before I stopped swilling the Kool-Aid and changed careers, I spent 2 years farming side work out to NOAA staffers so they could double dip between being NOAA administrative flunkies and NOAA outside contractors. At the time I was hiring them for the company contracted by ACE in the US with preventing sea turtles from getting ground into burger by dredging projects, which is a federal requirement to dredge in many places. It was a way for NOAA junior staffers to bump up their street cred and wallets too, after hours.

    The consistent theme I heard was that NOAA and the Army Core of Engineers (ACE) has a bad case of institutional PTSD. There are over a hundred green groups who engage in lawfare to sue their way through NOAA on a regular basis. This is also the case with ACE. The rationale is that there will be pressure to capitulate to green lawfare groups’ demands when budget money has to be reallocated from services required by law to defending themselves in court. This puts .gov groups in a bad spot- when performed aggressively enough, like the Conservation Law Foundation does, it becomes a self-perpetuating crisis.

    A good example is in codfish management in New England. CLF sues NOAA for lack of meeting poorly-defined goals in Right Whale population protection measures, filing a dozen cases each attacking distinct measures as part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. To pay for this, money from other legally-mandated tasks, like Codfish management, must be reallocated to cover the whale issues. As soon as that gets done, CLF sues NOAA for not meeting their legally-required management responsibilities under the Codfish management plan. The case gets settled out of court 3 years later by NOAA giving CLF a seat at the New Englane Fisheries Management council, which was their goal all along. Meanwhile, in those three years, CLF has refiled cases EVERY year on the same issue, so now there is one case settled, and two more to go.

    There are dozens of groups like the CLF doing the exact same thing to ACE. Just 2 weeks ago, the Trump Admin’s budget proposal was to cut inland waterway dredging budget drastically, because they got sued and lost HARD a few times in the last two years over environmental issues.

    The Dane is here, and he’s demanding Danegeld. I can’t help but think that flood control is less frightening an issue to the ACE than having to let go part of their engineering staff to increase the number of lawyers.

  6. The first thing we do…
    Well, the second thing we do is start making long range weather predictions using the Old Farmers Almanac (over 80% accurate), not NOAA (less than 40% accurate).

  7. The desk I’m sitting at is less than two blocks from the Mighty Mo. Flood stage here is 17 feet, it peaked at above 32.08 feet. During the winter months it is not uncommon for the Missouri to run as low as 3 or 4 feet – which was below the intakes for the old water plant, forcing us to move the plant and go to a well system, to the tune of several billion dollars for a town of 70k. There are 6 flood control dams on the Missouri River.

    You will never convince me that the Army Corps of Engineers is NOT exacerbating every flood that occurs in this river basin with mismanagement of the flood control system. I’ve watched it happen time and again, and the results just keep getting worse every time.

    Oh, and they’re telling us the water level isn’t really going to go down, that we’ll be dealing with this flooding through May.

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