Floods are hitting the midwest this spring, and the water is going to keep coming from snowmelt in Montana all the way down the Missouri River system, combined with potentially heavy precipitation events, the kind that are linked with climate change. The Missouri is the largest tributary to the Mississippi. The Missouri River is also the longest river in North America and the combined Missouri/Mississippi system constitutes the 4th longest river system in the world, after the Nile, Amazon, and the Yangtze. So why isn't there more attention paid to how these rivers are managed? And why are the Feds managing the river from Omaha or DC without more feedback and input from the stakeholders that live along the banks? That seems like a recipe for disaster, and in fact, it is.
A large flood situation hit Nebraska last month due nearby to where I live in part to a failed dam on the Niobrara, coupled with a decision from the US Army Corps of Engineers to allow high releases from the Gavins Point dam (Yankton, the town behind the dam was flooding from backed up Lewis and Clark Reservoir, plus heavy precipitation and snow melt (that "bomb cyclone" event). The estimated loss to farmers is devastating as numbers and dollar estimates are still rolling in about lost cattle and sanded/ruined fields, but some reports say there is more than $1billion USD in damage.
Some news articles are paying attention and one opinion piece in Bloomberg about the Missouri River speculates that the floods are less a situation driven by natural causes and more by manmade management decisions. Poor management decisions by the Federal Government rather than the stakeholders. Decisions like controlling the Missouri River for navigation, flood control, and hydropower generation in preference to listening to stakeholder input, or management that considers the natural system. There is this stretch of Missouri that runs along the Yankton Sioux Reservation called a "wild and scenic" stretch. And this stretch is in the last category of what that connotation means - it is a recreation stretch really. And the rest of the river is either bloated from being backed up behind a dam or flanked by engineered infrastructure.
Here is a digression: if middle America is in trouble, the coasts are going to feel it in the grocery stores as most of the country's cereal and wheat comes from this region, a good portion of the beef and pet food, a portion of dairy. And if California keeps seeing dry years like they did just recently, we, as a nation, are going to have to figure out how to keep feeding ourselves.
Articles abound about how the cities along the rivers in the Missouri and Mississippi systems are preparing for flood waters to rise up. Just as Gilbert Fowler White identified in his research in the 1940s, the US Government, with all these water development projects, gives people a false sense of security. And the insurance companies enable those communities to build in the floodplains. And this can spell disaster and death for middle America.
Just ask the folks in New Orleans how that infrastructure on the Mississippi is working out as they look UP at the river from Jackson Square; those who didn't leave after Katrina and those failed levees.
Or ask the Tribes whose homes were taken when the Pick-Sloane project bullied through the river valleys on the Missouri, displacing families and communities in the name of "progress".
"Progress" that is now a billion dollar operation with federal agencies using expansive budgets and employing scores of workers to "manage" the river. Keeping the USACE full of water engineers with something to do and provide US Fish and Wildlife and related scientists with a living laboratory.
Engineering massive rivers is a bad habit of those who seek control and lack acceptance of life on life's terms and nature on nature's terms.
Perhaps these floods will highlight the disparity that Native American communities face along this river system, just as the Mississippi flood in 1927 supposedly highlighted the disparity between North and South and the disgusting behavior of the white people toward the black people.