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The Intentional Flooding of America's Heartland 477

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:39AM (#36575464)

    And you're dammed if you don't.

  • Too Many (Score:1, Insightful)

    by glorybe ( 946151 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:42AM (#36575472)
    Growth and over population are at the root of this. We can not destroy nature and yet we need land urgently to raise crops and house the ever rising population. Science can not save us form total stupidity. Roll back birth rates and leave larger sections of the land unaffected and free of human uses or else we will pay a price we can not afford.
  • News Flash (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Gator ( 16820 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:43AM (#36575480)

    Move out of the flood zones or buy flood insurance. Its no different than the people that blamed the Army Corps when New Orleans flooded. Wake up people, you're living below sea level (New Orleans) or living in the 100 year flood plain (Midwest). What did you really think was going to happen?

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:46AM (#36575490) Homepage

    Sen. Blunt characterized the current flooding as "entirely preventable" and told reporters that he intends to force changes to the plan.

    Given the volume of water the Corps is trying to manage, that statement is unbelievable hogwash. Ignorance that goes far beyond the people who try to argue "intelligent design" has a scientific basis. It reminds me of the attempts to blame poor neighborhoods for the mortgage crisis, even though the overall default rate in poor, minority neighborhoods was lower than upper-middle class white neighborhoods.

    Couldn't have anything to do with snow pack and rainfall being over double the norm, it's got to be those dang environmentalists.

    Using natural and man-made disasters to demigod your political opposition. We really have turned into a pathetic bunch. This tripe doesn't belong on Slashdot.

  • Flood plain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:53AM (#36575528)

    If you don't want to get flooded don't live on a fucking flood plain.

    Systems built around "average" rainfall will fail eventually because the climate is NOT stable on a year to year basis. You either build levees and dams for a once in a thousand years worst case scenario or you accept you will get the occasional massive flood that overwhelms systems built around "average" rainfall.

    What actually happens is the dams and levees get built to handle the last major flood. That plan failed in Queensland Australia at the beginning of this year.

    People need to accept that they don't have absolute control over their lives. Nature happens.

  • by jonpublic ( 676412 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @08:59AM (#36575560)

    Hmm, the american thinker article seems pretty trollish, utilizing descriptions that I would generally find in political hate speech, blaming environmentalists for the flooding. The articles point isn't to find root cause, but to spread hate at environmental groups.

    A quick google search reveals that the american thinker is indeed a conservative online magazine. I would hope that folks realize there is a war of information out there between extremes of the political spectrum and that we are better off not spreading those words of hate. The extremists are always going to be looking to enlist you in their war, by claiming the other side is outrageous.

  • Re:Flood plain (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:03AM (#36575580)

    you're an ignorant fuck. The system wasn't designed for average rainfall. The system was designed for large rainfall and snowmelt. However, being forced to run the system in a different way has caused massive flooding.

  • Re:News Flash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:06AM (#36575600)

    Move out of the flood zones or buy flood insurance. Its no different than the people that blamed the Army Corps when New Orleans flooded. Wake up people, you're living below sea level (New Orleans) or living in the 100 year flood plain (Midwest). What did you really think was going to happen?

    I live there, I have flood insurance. My insurance company wont cover a single cent because the flood is man made. Now what smart ass?

    Wait, wait. Insurance companies exclude acts of God AND acts of man? Doesn't that mean they never pay out...oooooh.

    The insurance business needs some serious fucking regulation.

  • by Kizeh ( 71312 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:11AM (#36575626)
    I read ( that some of the main drivers for the elevated water levels were the shipping and fishing industry that lobbied their demands into the manual. Oddly enough, I suppose the fishing and tourism industry have largely similar interest as the "environmentalists" as far as the water levels. Still, original sounds indeed like conservative propaganda being propagated on people's misery.
  • Re:Too Many (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:13AM (#36575630)
    The clear reason for the current rate of population growth in the United States is immigration.

    I am aware that the idea is relatively unpopular, but we are going to have to cut back on immigration if we want to solve these problems.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:29AM (#36575738)
    Who Joe Herring is, is not the issue. It's not the messenger, it's the message. Unless you want to indulge in a lot of ad hominem arguments.

    Of course the message leaves something to be desired. But that is the important part, not whether he is a lawyer from New York, or a plumber from Milwaukee.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:31AM (#36575758)

    This is exactly right. The dams were NOT just built for flood control. They were built to generate electricity. When you empty out the reservoirs, you don't have any water to generate electricity.They were also built to allow navigation, and when you empty out the reservoirs you don't have water to sustain river flows for navigation. The claim that this was caused by environmental concerns is just wing-nut conspiracy theorist nonsense.

    But it will get repeated over and over again until it is treated as common knowledge.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cwix ( 1671282 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:32AM (#36575762)

    No the people building million dollar homes on the banks of a river that floods yearly, are the failures here.

    If they released water at the wrong time of the year it could wreck havoc on the fish population, which would result in people complaining that the corps is a failure for letting the fish die that the fishermen depended on.

    Rock and a hard place. Frankly the fact that they have been able to control as much flooding as they have, with the resources they have speaks volumes.

    In our country at this time we dont seem to want to fund our infrastructure. So when it cannot meet our needs, do we blame ourselves for not paying for stronger levies? No, we blame the people who have done the most with the least, because we failed to pay for the damn shit.

    I personally expect to see more complaints like this, when our bridges fail, and our damns fail, and our power systems fail. I can see it now, asshats like you saying "Those damn (Insert government agency) failed to build a damn in the 40s that could last 70 years."

    Fuck off.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JWW ( 79176 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:41AM (#36575810)

    Wow, the Malthusian liberal line is out in force today.

    South and North Dakota's use of federal money has nothing whatsoever to do with welfare moms and to high a birth rate.

    Federal funds come into the Midwest in the form of farm subsidies and or the Dakotas, in the form of money going to Indian reservations. Those reservations are a prime example of how federal handouts don't work, but are the last spending that the liberal elites in the states you mentioned would end.

    Very good arguments to end farm subsides do exist, though.

    Your comments however are standard costal elitist verbal vomit.

    The gist of this story asks whether the Corps could have avoided the unmitigated devastation they're raining down on these communities.

    As an engineer myself, I do have some spathy as to their predicament. They're faced with some hard challenges. But as a South Dakotan, I know for a fact that management of the dams has become much more about politics than it is about science. Figuring out what the policy needs to be to prevent being in this situation again must be a top priority.

    I really believe that there are engineering solutions that will prevent this happening again in the future. I fear that there are political solutions that will guarantee that this happens again in the future.

    But getting back to your comment. Your comment is hateful bile that is of no value at all to anyone.

  • by jamie ( 78724 ) * Works for Slashdot <> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @09:42AM (#36575812) Journal

    If I'm being asked to trust what Joe Herring says because of who he is, then of course I need to know who he is. He doesn't present evidence to back up many of his assertions, he just writes stuff and hopes I'll believe it:

    The Missouri River Recovery and Implementation Committee has seventy members []. Only four represent interests other than environmentalism. The recommendations of the committee, as one might expect, have been somewhat less than evenhanded.

    Says who?

    This year, despite more than double the usual amount of mountain and high plains snowpack (and the ever-present risk of strong spring storms), the true believers in the Corps have persisted in following the revised MWCM, recklessly endangering millions of residents downstream.

    Says who?

    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." The dams could further have easily handled the additional runoff without the need to inundate a sizeable chunk of nine states.

    Says who?

  • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:03AM (#36575940) Homepage
    I don't have time to read everything, and many "messages" can be safely ignored based on who the messenger is.

    Like this one, for example.

    Actually, I don't need to know who Joe Herring is in this case, the writing style clearly show that's it's written by someone with an axe to grind, and coming from a politically motivated position - I really don't need to wade through all that crap just in case he stumbled on a valid point somewhere.
  • by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:10AM (#36575968) Journal

    The authors premise is that had the ACE not abided by various environmentalists requests to mimic the natural flow of the river, then they would have been ready for this huge influx of water.

    And if they don't mimic the natural flow, then the environment around the river changes, and deer come in and eat people's yards, and invasive plants take hold, and native fish disappear so you can't fish anymore, and the same idiots who scream about this would scream about that.

    You can't cure stupidity.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:11AM (#36575976) Homepage Journal

    Who is "we"? The fine people of Louisiana, for example, DID pay for infrastructure improvements. Their fearless leaders spent the money elsewhere.

  • by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:19AM (#36576030)

    It's not the messenger, it's the message.

    It's a little hard to take seriously a message from a web site that argues [] that Hitler was a "green" and that "Nazi SS doctrine (was) an explosive concoction of eugenics and environmentalism loaded with eco-imperialistic ambitions that had devastating consequences on the Eastern Front in World War II." Seriously, what? The Nazi SS doctrine was environmentalism? Environmentalism and eco-imperialism were responsible for the Eastern Front in WWII []? Crazy.

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @10:31AM (#36576106)
    It's high time that "the Heartland" pulled their heads out of Jeebus's butthole long enough to realize that we're fucking up our climate. FUCK EM.

    Did you eat today? Thank 'the Heartland'.
  • Re:Too Many (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:10AM (#36576316) Homepage Journal

    Because our constitution doesn't permit government to have that kind of power over people's lives.

    Eh, just say it's necessary and proper to regulate interstate commerce. Name any conceivable thing any government may ever want to do, which isn't covered by that power.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:14AM (#36576340)

    Good points. But silting up is potentially worse than you describe because when "the bottom of the river bed is well above the floodplain" the river can change its course. Perhaps mere miles. Perhaps dozens or hundreds of miles. Often permanently.

    Without the spring pulse, river cities could become high and dry, and non-river cities could find themselves underwater for a hundred years. Somewhat randomly.

    That is what meandering rivers in flattish floodplains naturally do, even without levees. Mis-managed levees make the process even more exciting, while offering a veneer of apparent safety

    If not for the Army Corps of engineers, New Orleans itself could have already become a city in the arm pit of a swamp, and not adjacent to the Mississippi anymore.

    Are the communities that live on the river okay with those kinds of changes, instead of the relatively ordered flooding we have now?

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:30AM (#36576438) Journal

    Indian subsidies are reparations, so it's kind of a different thing.

    So, for how long do these reparations last, and when can we stop with the apartheid and enforced isolation of native folk under that name?

    I mean, seriously - I don't see Germany paying general reparations money to Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, most of Eastern Europe, etc. over WWII - and that was a hell of a lot more recent than Wounded Knee, dontcha think? As for "stolen land", yup - human history is basically full of examples of that. It's an un-doable part of our past, and maybe it's time we stopped guilting ourselves so much over it and perpetuating the BS that goes with it.

    Of course, if you think differently, then you're more than free to start buying ancestral tribal lands and handing it over to the nearest American with native blood. While my own ancestry dictates such land to be in North Carolina, I'll be happy with a few acres a lot closer to my job out here in the Pacific Northwest if that's okay with you. ;)

    Point is, calling it reparations is ludicrous at this point. It should just be called what it is - paternalistic allowance money.

  • Re:Too Many (Score:3, Insightful)

    by colinrichardday ( 768814 ) <> on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:30AM (#36576444)

    Wow, the Malthusian liberal line is out in force today.

    Malthus was a conservative parson.

  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @11:54AM (#36576572)

    The problem is that the MWCM was rewritten from basic flood control to include several competing targets: flood control, tourism, shipping, fishing, and water quality and environmental protection. The end result is that the ACE is now permanently under fire for not satisfying someone's pet condition, and they can't possibly win.

    The hard truth is that whatever is being built is being built to match certani scenarios, whether it is the 100 year flood, the 100 year earthquake, or something similar. It cannot possibly be built to account for the absolut worst case scenario that could happen. And when something in that range happens, then, well, we're fucked.

    Unfortunately, in the US, it seems that no one is able to accept that, and instead concentrates on scoring points for their ideological team. This article and the reaction of various politicians is the perfect example of it. The ACE is doing a thankless job with little funding and having to hit mutually exclusive targets, and what do we get? Demonization of them and various political groups.

    To the writer of the article and the politicians trying to exploit this for gain: fuck off.

  • Re:News Flash (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KiahZero ( 610862 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @12:09PM (#36576674)

    This situation couldn't be further from what happened in New Orleans. The current flooding seems to be an example of a flood control system working as intended, albeit with unintended consequences. In New Orleans, the Corps' system of protection was undermined by the Corps' actions in maintaining MRGO; while the Corps could not be held liable for its negligent maintenance of the levies, it could be (and was) held liable for its negligent maintenance of the channel (ruling available at local news site [] ), given that the channel increased the power of the storm surge into New Orleans.

  • Re:News Flash (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @12:42PM (#36576870) Homepage Journal

    The insurance business is probably the most heavily regulated business around.

  • Re:Flood plain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @04:04PM (#36577980)

    If you don't want to get flooded don't live on a fucking flood plain.

    I'd like to add the following advice for Americans who are trying to figure out where they should live in order to avoid disasters and dangerous environments:
      Don't live near any of the many active volcanos, since they may erupt violently and unexpectedly.
      Don't live near Yellowstone National Park, the San Andreas Fault, or anywhere else that's even remotely close, since "The Big One" could come any day.
      Don't live near any form of major geologic activity, in fact, since it may do something.
      Don't live in the southwest or Texas, since the heat easily gets over 100F on a regular basis, sometimes much higher.
      Don't live north of the Mason-Dixon line or in the Rockies, since you may face blizzards, snowstorms, or other wintry conditions.
    Don't live in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, or Hawaii, since you may get tsunamis.
      Don't live within 100 miles of the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf coasts, since you may have hurricanes.
      Don't live anywhere in the central U.S., since it's predisposed towards tornados.
      Don't live near a river, bayou, swamp, lake, creek, wetland, canal, bay, marsh reservoir, estuary, or any other form of water, since it may flood.
      Don't live near any major cities, since they are targets for attack and house industrial facilities that may explode.
      Don't live far away from major cities, since the commute will contribute to global warming which may kill our children's children.
      Don't like in North Dakota, since it's North Dakota.

    I don't know why more Americans don't follow these simple guidelines to avoiding disasters. The way everyone lives here, you'd think that risk was a normal part of life!

  • Re:Too Many (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @04:26PM (#36578120)

    The obvious 1st choice is to offer $100,000 tax free to anyone who gets sterilized. $50,000 if they have 1 kid. World-wide. The poorer the country, the more $100,000 is worth. It'll boost economies better than wars.

    So, you're proposing to pay the local thugs $100K for every woman they force to get sterilized?

    Or don't you think that some rebel thug (the kind of guy who moves in, rapes kills and plunders an area, then moves on) is going to pass up the chance to make a few tens of millions?

    Or perhaps you thought that the local thugs are going to let the women KEEP the $100K?

  • Re:Flood plain (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sunspot42 ( 455706 ) on Sunday June 26, 2011 @04:55PM (#36578298)

    We dumb asses on the coasts are already subsidizing your fucking corporate farmers (most of whom now work for massive agribusiness concerns) with tens of billions of dollars a year in subsidies, because they seem to be incapable of competing in the free market we're all supposed to worship. That's on top of all the dams and levees we paid for to keep their farmland from flooding every couple of years.

    We'd pay a lot less for food if your farmers would switch to growing healthy crops people (and livestock) should actually eat, instead of growing corn, corn and more corn, which the government then has steal money from the rest of us in order to buy and stockpile. []

    Also, food might be a bit cheaper if we stopped paying your precious farmers to not grow any crops at all...

    Anyhow, flooding is good for farmland. All that flooding is why the Midwest has so much good farmland to begin with.

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