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Crop Damage Worsens in American Heartland

June 1, 2011


The heavy snowmelt in the upper reaches of the Rockies, where the Missouri River rises, combined with heavy Spring rains in the entire multi-state basin, has produced record run-off in the tributaries and mainstem. This has created emergency conditions across a huge area of the High Plains, affecting all or parts of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, the Dakotas, western Iowa, southwestern Minnesota, and down through the state of Missouri, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. Depending on the daily rain volume, the situation will go on for weeks.

The governor of Montana declared a state of emergency May 23, and other governors downstream have now done so. The capitals of North Dakota (Bismarck) and South Dakota (Pierre), are both on the Missouri River. Some 2,000 residents of Pierre are expected to have to evacuate. Some are warned to be prepared to leave their homes for two months. Some neighborhoods are rushing to sandbag, if they think this has a chance to work. Prison inmates have been mustered for work this week in Yankton, S.D. Volunteer teams are working alongside the National Guard. South Dakota has 600 National Guardsmen deployed at present.

The night of May 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the first of what will be daily telephone briefings with government leaders, emergency response teams, and the media, to inform people of the latest developments.

The basin-wide flood-control system, not fully completed by the Corps (because of obstruction of all kinds, so that tributary impoundments, floodways, and canals were never built), is nevertheless now being used to the maximum, to try to prevent deaths and mitigate damage. But the extreme conditions are causing evacuations, heavy flooding, and huge agriculture damage.

The Corps operates a sequence of dams on the mainstem of the Missouri, whose reservoirs are all now at gigantic volumes. There is a constant monitoring of the inflow at points along the river, the height and extent of the impoundment, etc. in order for the Corps to determine the optimum time to release some flow, from which dam, to mitigate flood damage.

The Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is where the decisions are made on how to best “regulate” the river flow. For instance, over Memorial Day weekend, the Corps announced that releases at Gavins Points Dam would commence, reaching a volume of 150,000 cubic feet per second by June 14. This will surpass the previous record high of 70,000 cfs, set in 1997. People came out to watch the spillway spectacle, surpassing anything ever before seen in the community.

The Corps has posted an inundation map for Gavins Point to Sioux City, Iowa.

Jody Farhat, the Chief of Division supervising decisions on each dam, said yesterday, “The bottom line is, the sooner we can reach maximum release rates, the less risk there is that we will eventually have to go higher. Once we have evacuated some storage in the reservoir system, we will have more flexibility to respond to these rapidly changing conditions.”

Unplanted, Waterlogged Crops

Large areas of wheat, barley, and corn were never planted in this flooded basin. Some fields which were successfully sown, are now so waterlogged that the crop is jeopardized. There is flooding along dozens of tributaries of the Missouri, besides the mainstem itself.

The North Dakota State Extension Service is sounding the alarm. Joel Ransom, agronomist for the Service, warns that there is oxygen depletion in fields with water-saturated soils, and this can affect crop growth in the short and longer term. Crops can differ in their tolerance to waterlogging. The most tolerant, down to the most susceptible, are rice, soybeans, oats, wheat, corn, barley, canola, peas, dry beans, and lentils. Other than rice, many of these crops are produced in the Missouri River Basin.

Many farmers cannot reach their fields, because roads are flooded out. Bridges are unsafe.

Storms and Tornadoes Across the North

Along with the torrents of rain, and high winds across the northern states over the last 48 hours, the tornado threat conditions resulted in confirmed twisters in a large band from the Dakotas through Michigan and eastward.

In Southern Michigan, an EF-1 tornado hit Shiawassee County on Sunday. The storms generally uprooted trees, knocked down power lines, and did other damage; for example, in Ingham County, a barn was destroyed. Power was cut to at least 138,000 homes and businesses during the storm wave, and still had not been restored as of Monday afternoon, to 91,000.


From → Food War

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