Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flood Control Strategy

A sobering account of it in this article from American Thinker concerning the recent flooding in the Midwest, where environmentalism—once again—appears to trump public safety.

An excerpt.

“As late as April of 2011, the Water Management Chief for the Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, expressed an opinion in an e-mail to a concerned citizen that the mountain snowmelt this year would "be nothing to write home about." This internal e-mail, among many others recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request by Gannett's Washington Bureau, exposes that assertion as a gross misstatement of known facts.

“The e-mails reveal that a cadre of hydrologists, engineers, and National Weather Service (NWS) officials had repeatedly warned the chief, Ms. Jody Farhat, beginning in January about the danger posed by up to 500% higher-than-normal snowpack looming in the mountains above. Multiple sources also informed the Corps that the snow had an abnormally high water content, which, combined with NWS reports of soil saturation levels of 99% in much of the Dakotas and nearly all of Montana, greatly added to the likelihood of epic flooding. Even the Corps headquarters in Washington warned Ms. Farhat about the growing danger. She dismissed their concerns.

“Under her direction, the Corps plodded along, conducting business as usual right up until the last moment, when conditions forced a radical shift from an all-is-well status to an ark-building emergency almost overnight.

“Confronted by the worst flooding in the history of the Missouri River Basin, Farhat attempts to deflect criticism by claiming that the snowpack was "just a bit above normal" until mid-April, when it "skyrocketed." According to data found at the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center website (operated by the NWS), it wasn't the snowpack that skyrocketed; it was the Corps estimate of it that rose dramatically. The snow was already there. How did the Corps miss it? One possible explanation is that they had their focus directed elsewhere.

“A front-line operational manager expressed his concern to Ms. Farhat that the information being passed on to the Corps decision-makers was routinely ignored, worrying that if such a dismissive attitude continued, the managers "will not even bother to call in, or provide input, if they feel like they're not being heard."

“He continued, "We're all concerned about being in our exclusive flood control zones ... but what concerns me more is the feedback that I'm hearing: 'It doesn't matter what we say so we may as well keep our mouths shut.'" Farhat's response was that the operations managers don't have a "system-wide perspective."

“Even now, amidst the most prolonged flooding ever seen on the "Big Muddy," the Corps continues to peddle the story that this was an unremarkable year until the advent of extraordinarily strong spring rains in the Montana reach of the Missouri River basin. "And what happened was we had this incredible rainfall event, that was a rainfall event in May, and that was the game-changer in terms of system operations," Farhat said.

“In an interview with the Omaha World Herald, Farhat said that these rains created an additional 4 to 5 million acre-feet (MAF) of runoff, pushing the dam system past its tipping point and leaving the Corps with no alternative but to pass water through the system at the historic rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second. However, at that rate of release, the supposedly culpable spring rains would have been evacuated from the system in less than two weeks.

“The Corps began releasing water at this rate at the beginning of June and will continue to do so until the latter part of August. By the time this is over, the Corps will have evacuated more than ten times the amount of water contained in those offending spring rains. Thankfully, the dams hold water better than the Corps story.

“The evidence seems to point to the Corps becoming tragically distracted from its essential mission. Flood control has been pushed farther down the list of priorities to make room for eco-system restoration. While busily pretending to be Mother Nature, chasing the green dream of a river restored to some amorphously defined pre-dam state, the Corps ignored the reality of a leviathan catastrophe. It appears that we no longer have a Corps of Engineers operating a flood-control system, but rather a fish and wildlife agency that dabbles in flood-control.”