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Releases from South Dakota dam prompt renewed flood concerns for Missouri farmers

Farmers point finger at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Flood fight Missouri Army Corps Engineers.jpg
Posted at 7:12 PM, May 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 12:37:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With a new round of flooding expected along the Missouri River in northwest Missouri, farmers are pointing the finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“There’s a lot of people won’t survive this, a lot of farmers will not survive this,” said Buddy Raasch, who farms more than 60 acres outside Liberty.

Fields in Missouri could be swallowed by floodwater because of decisions being made in South Dakota.

The Corps of Engineers announced Thursday an increase — from 50,000 cubic feet per second to 60,000 — in how much water will be released from Gavin's Point Dam in the northern part of the Missouri River.

The impact of the increase is expected to be felt in already flood-ravaged parts of Iowa and Missouri.

“When this water goes down, this corn will be dead,” Raasch said.

The release, which coincides with an incredibly rainy forecast, has frustrated farmers along the river.

“The farmers are affected, because they’re choosing South Dakota over us,” said Raasch’s son, Errie, who also farms the land. "We have a governor who should be stepping to the plate."

The Corps of Engineers said the reservoirs up north are full because of heavy rain in Nebraska and South Dakota and mountain runoff that has continued this spring. Increasing the release now is necessary to prevent a worse situation from developing.

“If we filled it completely up and we get a big rain storm in South Dakota, then we’re passing inflows,” said John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Water Management Division with the Corps of Engineers. "If we’re doing that today, we’d be close to 100,000 cubic feet per second."

Remus said he doesn’t expect the released water to reach Kansas City for four to five days. By the time that happens, the rain in the forecast will will have cleared the area.

That didn't stop Tom Waters with the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association from criticizing the Corps of Engineers' reservoir management in a public email, calling the latest release increase a slap in the face to hard working families.

“We know they’re calling for three to five inches, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand there’s going to be more water in there than they’re planning on, so it’s a dangerous situation,” Waters said.

The Corps or Engineers does not use forecasted rain in its decisions to release water.

The 2004 Missouri River Recovery Program also remains a sore subject. It shifted the Corps of Engineers' top priority from flood control to protecting fish and wildlife as part of a restoration project aimed at fixing the river's natural ecosystem.

“We have eight authorized purposes for main stem reservoir operations already," Remus said. "We don't have eight priorities. We have one priority, and that's life and safety, and since March 2018, we have been in flood control operation mode."

Remus said, while they do have authorization for fish and wildlife, they have not been operating specifically for that purpose for more than a year.

It's no comfort to farmers like Raasch, who sees a massive the threat to livelihood chugging down the Missouri River.

“The American farmer is the endangered species,” he said.

There is no timeline for when the release levels at the dam will go back down.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, isn't waiting. He is sponsoring two bills that would address the concerns — one that would make flood control the Corps of Engineers' top priority and remove fish and wildlife from its authorized purposes and one that would establish a civilian advisory council to make recommendations for revisions to the river management manual.