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The Intentional Flooding of America's Heartland 477

Posted by timothy
from the best-laid-dams dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Joe Herring writes that sixty years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the process of taming the Missouri by constructing massive dams at the top to moderate flow to the smaller dams below, generating electricity while providing desperately needed control of the river's devastating floods. But after about thirty years of operation, as the environmentalist movement gained strength throughout the seventies and eighties, the Corps received a great deal of pressure to include specific environmental concerns into their Master Water Control Manual, the 'bible' for the operation of the dam system, as preservation of habitat for at-risk bird and fish populations soon became a hot issue among the burgeoning environmental lobby. The Corps began to utilize the dam system to mimic the previous flow cycles of the original river, holding back large amounts of water upstream during the winter and early spring in order to release them rapidly as a spring pulse. 'Whether warned or not, the fact remains that had the Corps been true to its original mission of flood control, the dams would not have been full in preparation for a spring pulse,' writes Herring. 'The dams could further have easily handled the additional runoff without the need to inundate a sizable chunk of nine states.' The horrifying consequence is water rushing from the dams on the Missouri twice as fast as the highest previous releases on record while the levees that protect the cities and towns downstream were constructed to handle the flow rates promised at the time of the dam's construction."
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The Intentional Flooding of America's Heartland

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  • Re:Red herring (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:42AM (#36575474)

    What surprised me is that the people who originally lived in new orleans 100+ years ago because it was a nice smooth flat place found out why it was like that when it flooded the first spring. Instead of getting a clue and moving somewhere else, they just kept building there right up to today.

    Hey dipshits, if I built a home in the mouth of a volcano, would anyone feel bad when it erupted?

    And don't give me that stupid infographic of places where there is a 1% risk of tornado per year. New orleans is in the path of the biggest river in this country that has a 100% chance of floods every year.

    Live somewhere else or quit crying when it floods, morons.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:53AM (#36575524)

    I've read several articles from this site forwarded by a friend. The articles were biased, used slippery slope logic, etc.

    Now they are leveraging slashdot to boost their Google ranking.

    Editor, please?

  • Blame the developers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KKBundy (2310464) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @07:58AM (#36575552)
    Yeah. Yeah. Well I happen to live in Bismarck, one of the cities currently flooding. Although I sure they would have done things differently now, they have always warned this town that this was a possibility. Every time a huge development went in down by the river, the Corps was against it, but money talks and the city and county commissioners approved the measure, drooling over the taxes they'd get from million dollar houses on 150,000 dollar lots. I mean these people built several peninsulas of land out into the river so everyone could have water access. They took a great wetland area next to the river and forced its destruction through the meetings. This has happened on dozens of occasions, and now they are all yelling at the Corps. The Corps has constantly taken heat for the dam being too empty the last few decades and not considering tourism. The meetings have been rancorous to say the least. I'm not a big Corps fan having been in a bit of trouble with them myself (camping while canoeing on corp land) but let's put the blame where it really lies. With the developers who masterminded restructuring a river for their own profits. The Blessed Atheist Bible Study @ http://blessedatheist.com/ [blessedatheist.com]
  • by belthize (990217) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:21AM (#36575686)

    The blog/post/whatever-that-was implies a false dichotomy. Yes the original flood control dams were designed to control flooding (hence the name), yes subsequent environmental understanding caused the release cycle to be more pulsed than continuous. The solution isn't to choose between the two, the solution is to re-invest and rebuild portions to accommodate both.

    The mass funding of infrastructure improvements (bridges, interstates, dams, power) from the 1930's to 1960's was a good thing but we can't view them as a one and done process. They not only take maintenance they also need to be redone as they age and new understanding of their effects arise.

    We must start taking a longer view, if the replacement infrastructure cost of all of those things is 10 trillion dollars (or some other number) and their average life cycle due to aging or other factors is 50 years then we need to start replacing them on that cycle of 200 billion/year. Part of the problem is that so much infrastructure was placed in so little time (10 to 20 years) it's all coming due at once.

    Sadly we take a short term, one and done approach, we have a dam, why would we ever need to rebuilt it.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:23AM (#36575692) Homepage Journal

    Because our constitution doesn't permit government to have that kind of power over people's lives. Also note, that population rises are starting to level off without it. For the first time in US history, white babies are a minority. When brown people become more affluent, their numbers will likewise not increase so fast and possibly decrease.

    My mother had seven siblings, I had only one sister, I only have two kids myself. When your kids are likely to die before adulthood, you need more of them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:29AM (#36575744)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_dwelling_hill
    An artificial dwelling hill ("Terp"), created to provide safe ground during high tide and river floods.
    In 500 BC it was for keeping there feet, food and livestock dry, but it should work for computers, wide-screen TV's and SUV's just the same.

  • I wonder (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nimbius (983462) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:38AM (#36575788) Homepage
    what additional engineering measures will need to be
    incepted and retrofitted to this system of dams in order to modernize them
    in light of global warming and climate change?

    had this system not been built, what would america have been like?
    has our recent industrial farming (recent meaning ~30 years) affected the outcome of this system any?
    how can it/should it scale in the future?

    sure, the source of the article is ominous and i take anything i hear from someone who
    tries to politicize or modernize the third reich with a grain of salt...but as slashdot readers we owe
    it to ourselves to study the article with an objective scientific mind.
  • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:42AM (#36575816) Homepage

    True enough. Simple physics.

    When it's warmer, the same volume of air, can hold more water-vapour, AND more water evaporates from warmer seas.

    But when more water goes up, more water must also come down, it's not as if it -accumulates- up there. Thus we'll get heavier rainfall.

    Best-case, some of that rainfall comes in areas that need it, and where it causes more good than harm.

    But unavoidably, some of it will come down at inconvenient times and or inconvenient places.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JWW (79176) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:52AM (#36575876)

    Infrastructure is not the problem here. These dams are engineering marvels. True, they were built in the 60's, but they are working today exactly as designed. This has nothing to do with our issues with regards to infrastructure funding. It has everything to do with years of above expected rainfall in the plains, and the Corps failure to account for that. Now it could be that rainfall has increased so much that this was really unavoidable, but in the wake of this an investigation into what the Corps policies should be is absolutely required.

  • Re:News Flash (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fat_mike (71855) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:38AM (#36576140)

    Your insurance company doesn't sell flood insurance. The federal government sells flood insurance. Its called the NFIP - National Flood Insurance Program. They close it down and stop selling policies when they don't have enough funds to cover losses.

    There are re-insurers that back it up.

    And there is regulation, its called ISO and its not a government agency and a good example of how a non-government run standards organization can function.

    When did Slashdot turn into the New York Times?

  • Re:News Flash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@@@beau...org> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:41AM (#36576162)

    What a tard. Didn't you know that the free market pulled out of the flood insurance decades ago when the Feds took over? Yup, the only source of flood insurance is the US Federal Government's Flood Insurance program. Guess they only run those PSAs in areas where flooding is a problem or you don't have a TV? We get em all the time where they explain that no homeowner's policy covers flood damage, that only the Federal Flood Insurance program does that and that your policy must be in force thirty days before a disaster.

    Seriously, selling flood insurance in the current US is a fools game which is why only the Government is stupid enough to do it. You have areas that flood several times per decade and the people just rebuild because Uncle Sugar will come through. Hell, even if they don't buy the flood insurance Uncle Sugar will probably come through with at least a zero (or so low as to not matter) interest loan. After Katrina/Rita they have finally started telling some of the most risky areas they have to either move or greatly beef up their rebuilding to elevate the structure above the 100 year flood level.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mellon (7048) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:49AM (#36576214) Homepage

    California is broke because they're not allowed to raise taxes on anything ever without a two-thirds majority, but it only takes a 50%+1 vote for citizens to vote in new spending using the proposition system. Also, California is actually not as broke as they thought, because despite this tax revenues were a lot higher this year than was projected.

    I have no idea about the state of Massachusetts' finances, but I given how well-informed you are about California, I suspect you are similarly poorly-informed about Massachusetts.

    I don't know what being god has to do with it. Do you mean that we shouldn't have any laws at all? That murder should be okay? Or is it only laws that restrain corporations that are a problem? Maybe it should be okay for corporations to poison people, but not for individual people to poison people? It should be okay for corporations to defraud people, but not for people to defraud people?

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mellon (7048) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:54AM (#36576228) Homepage

    Farm subsidies ought to end because they subsidize the wrong things. Indian subsidies are reparations, so it's kind of a different thing. The way they are administered doesn't seem right to me, but it's hard to argue against the reparations because we did basically steal all their land.

    Like you, I find it reprehensible that people have so little respect for the farmers who put food on their table. The latest insult, of course, being the anti-immigrant laws that have resulted in millions of dollars worth of food crops rotting in the fields because there's no-one available to pick them.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtb61 (674572) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:08AM (#36576298) Homepage

    Dams and other devices are flood 'mitigation' not prevention tools. Levies are meant to be flood prevention tools, however when everyone builds levees on a river you concentrate the flow and raise the height of the river because it can not spread out over the "flood plans".

    Dams provide a water detention facility, the detain a portion of the flow at peak periods to release it at low flow periods. Dams are not automatically infinitely rising block all water devices, they will only detain the amount of water they have been designed too.

    So you must guess the flooding months in advance and, release additional water in low flow periods. However no matter what you do, when flooding is at a peak it will overflow all dams. Added to that are idiotic greedy right wingers who don't want to pay for the proper maintenance and due replacement of fifty year old or more structures, which must now release water at lower levels least the break or if water over flows, the dam be undermined or excessive erosion occur upon surrounding land.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by couchslug (175151) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:18AM (#36576362)

    The US doesn't need land "urgently" for either purpose. If prices rise too high, more people will grow food. It's not a lost art.

    It was once typical for even suburban homes to have a serious garden out back. Many older lot sizes and home positions reflect this. "Victory Gardens" produced massive amounts of quality produce (hint, not the flavorless shit you buy in stores) during WWII, and domestic fowl provided eggs and meat. (The Backyard Chicken movement is reasserting itself. I have more eggs than I can use, and barter or gift them to friends who hook me up with produce.)

    The modern world doesn't have an arable land problem, it has a land use problem.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JWW (79176) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:20AM (#36576388)

    Actually he line coming from AGW folks regarding this region was to expect widespread drought.

    Recently I saw an article that indicated that some models of climate assumed that higher temps would lead to more water vapor at high altitudes which would lead to more warning. What appears to be happening, however, is that there is more water vapor at lower altitudes which means more rain.

    I'm fine with scientists changing their theories in the face of new evidence, but to stare that they told us this is what was going to happen is incorrect. They actually told us this out come wasn't going to happen.

    Also, the dam system on the Missouri is fully built out, suggesting more dams is an ignorant observation in this discussion.

  • by guanxi (216397) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:25AM (#36576412)

    Who the hell is Joe Herring and why should I trust anything he writes?

    Who the hell are Hugh Pickens and Timothy, and why should I trust anything they write/post? This is a blow to both their reputations; this is really embarrassingly low quality stuff. Maybe they could respond to this thread. Pickens has no excuse; clearly he read the article in detail and was either taken in or wanted to promote it; I hope Timothy simply didn't review the post carefully -- unfortunately, would not be a first on Slashdot.

    I get the sense that I've seen a few right-wing conspiracy theories on Slashdot's front page recently. Slashdot always seemed to be about open inquiry and not politicized conspiracies. Hopefully it stays that way.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:33AM (#36576462)
    The obvious first choice would be those carrying serious genetic conditions like Huntingtons or cystic fibrosis. A respect for human rights would prevent forced sterilisation, but that doesn't mean they can't be nudged towards it with a combination of shame and bribery. They could be offered a guaranteed place at the front of the queue for adoption. If it's possible to convince most of them to cease breeding, those conditions could be eliminated in a generation or two.

    One of the reasons past efforts at eugenics failed is their lack of real science - they were just used as ways to punish the social lower classes without good cause. Genetics, on the other hand, don't have any personal bias against poor people. They don't judge the moral character of the subject. They are mostly neutral regarding race, sickle cell aside, and even then it's only a correlation.

    I have no interest in starting a family, and am unlikely to ever do so (I'm a slashdotter - do you think I'll get to mate?), so there wouldn't be any point sterilising me. If I were carrying some genetic flaw that could be potentially fatal to me or my decendants though, I would certinly consider volunteering. I'd do so right away with just a modest compensation for the inconvenience.
  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by onepoint (301486) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:11AM (#36576678) Homepage Journal

    When I lived in NJ, I had a wonderful garden, I was able to keep a family of 6 and my family of 4 feed with vegetables from may to first freeze. I spent 1 hour every day in the garden. it was very calming. What I thought was great that I could give away more vegetables than I could consume and the only cost was my time and water ( nope never bought fertilizers ).

    my crops were corn, carrots, collard greens, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, funny looking squash, and a few others on a garden that was 20 x 33. learned from PBS some gardening show.

    Now in Florida I have a condo, and all can get growing is tomatoes and beans.

  • Re:Red herring (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LibRT (1966204) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @12:28PM (#36577160)
    The federal flood insurance pools ensure that people continue to build in extremely high-risk flood zones. No private insurer would provide insurance against flood in these areas (rightfully so, as the odds of writing the business profitably are incredibly small and subject to massive volatility), and therefore lenders would not provide financing, as the lenders would be unable to be protected from default in the event of a flood (ie once a person's home is destroyed by an uninsured flood, that person retains no motivation to continue paying the mortgage on a destroyed house).

    The National Flood Insurance Program is another example of well intentioned government subsidies putting people directly in harm's way.
  • Re:Red herring (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @12:58PM (#36577310) Homepage Journal

    Indeed. If they can't go elsewhere then that money should be spent on building homes that are adapted to the local geography, instead of generic homes adapted to nowhere.

  • Re:Red herring (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zancarius (414244) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @01:41PM (#36577526) Homepage Journal

    I believe CptNerd was being sarcastic. My reasoning is because his comment alludes to a story I heard a number of years ago from a member of a pro-ranching PAC. This particular story, as it was relayed to me, goes something like the following:

    At a convention or regulatory meeting of sorts, possibly for ranchers, a young environmentalist was espousing the cruelty of keeping animals in such confines. Slaughtering them was a form of murder, after all, and our passionate young friend proposed that all cattle in captivity should be freed so they can live again in the wild as nature intended. Puzzled by the economics of such actions, a rancher asked the young man, "If you free all the cattle, how do you plan on buying meat?"

    Without hesitation, the environmentalist replied "At the grocery store like everyone else."

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