Speakers from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service assure crowd at Corps meeting in Nebraska City that they are not expecting another flooding event like what occurred in 2011.
With around 50 people attending, all seats were filled and some were left standing at the Army Corps of Engineers meeting about the Missouri River held on April 8 at the MRB Lewis & Clark Center. There to be reassured there were no concerns of a repeat of the 2011 flooding, many also wanted an opportunity to ask questions and say their piece about what had happened in 2011.
Jody Farhat, Kevin Stamm, and Mike Swenson spoke on behalf of the Corps, and Kevin Low was there to speak for the National Weather Service.
Referring to slides shown, Low told those gathered that while mountain snowpack was well above average for the year, accumulation season typically ended in mid-April. Additionally, plains snowpack was insignificant this year and would not be an issue as it had been in 2011. Most rivers are now ice-free, so ice jam flooding is no longer an issue. He said that at this time the National Weather Service was unable to forecast what kind of precipitation to expect, and intense thunderstorms and heavy rains could still cause some flooding, but again, nothing unexpected for spring.
Kevin Stamm and Mike Swenson also referred to slides and handouts, telling people a little bit about the Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibility to fulfill its purposes of flood control, hydropower, water supply, water quality control, recreation, navigation, fish and wildlife, and irrigation. They told the audience that the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System consisted of six reservoirs: Fort Peck, Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Fort Randall, and Gavins Point. The top three, Fort Peck, Garrison, and Oahe are not only the biggest on the system, containing 90 percent of the water in storage, but they are also the largest three reservoirs the Corps operates.
They went on to explain the storage zones and allocations of the reservoirs, saying that the bottom 24 percent is the permanent pool, which remains full at all times, the next 53 percent is carryover multiple use, which is considered drought storage. The 16 percent above that is annual flood control and multiple use; in a normal year the Corps lets the water rise to the bottom of this level, then slowly releases the water throughout the summer and fall. The top 7 percent of the reservoirs is considered exclusive flood control, and when water reaches this level, it is released throughout spring, summer, and fall.
As of April 7, the water level in all three of the biggest reservoirs was within 1-9 feet of the annual flood control and multiple use zone, and water was being released from all three.
Once the meeting was turned over to questions from the public, the crowd that had been so silent during the speakers’ presentations began peppering Jody Farhat with questions about why the inundations maps in 2011 were so far off, why water wasn’t released sooner, and how people could monitor information themselves this time. Farhat explained that in 2011 the Corps did not have good elevation levels for all of the affected area from bluff to bluff so best estimates were used. Now all elevations have been mapped with LIDAR, so any future maps should be more accurate.
Farhat defended the Corps actions in 2011 saying that they were correct according to their Master Plan. Members of the audience suggested that the Master Plan needed to be updated and also that the levels held in the reservoirs should be reduced, effectively lowering the base of the exclusive flood control zone, so that water would have to be released earlier. Farhat told the audience that the last time the Master Plan had been updated was in 2006 and it had taken 15 years and a Judge’s order to do it then. The audience pressed her to admit that she had the power to do a temporary one year deviation from the plan if need be.
Farhat told the audience about studies that had been done since the 2011 event that showed that there was nothing the Corps could have done differently given the information they had and the situation as it was that would have prevented the 2011 outcome. The meeting wrapped up with the speakers offering to answer any additional questions face-to-face and most of the crowd filing out.