Iowa Public Television


Missouri River Residents Wait For Water Levels To Rise

posted on June 17, 2011

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Food and gasoline prices fell last month giving rise to hopes more money would be spent by consumers to rejuvenate the economy.

The Producer Price Index, which measures price changes BEFORE they reach the consumer, showed a .2 percent gain signaling inflation was in check.

While retailers had thoughts of lower prices encouraging customers to spend a little more in May, consumers held back. Retail sales numbers also fell by .2 percent due mostly to fewer cars being purchased. When the volatile auto sector is removed from the equation retail sales actually rose by .3 percent.

And the Department of Labor reported the Consumer Price Index rose .2 percent, the smallest increase in six months. The cool down was assisted by lower gasoline prices and reduced demand.

All served to spur a volatile week on Wall Street where the market rose early in the week on the positive economic news only to lose all it had gained on worries about who will pay if Greece default on its loans. By Friday, the Dow Jones Industrials were up about 50 points over Monday's open.

While the economy is in a volatile state so is the environment, wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Southwest, a severe drought is affecting more than half of Texas and millions of acres in the Midwest and South have been, or are, under water.

Last month, the Mississippi River came out of its banks and last week a battle began against the Missouri River. As Army Corps officials opened dams to release the build-up from spring rains and snow melt the water has risen farther downstream.

During an inspection of levees running between Nebraska and Iowa, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack cast doubt as to whether there would be money for extra aid to flooded farmers if there are cuts to USDA's budget.

High water levels this week have only increased the tension as everyone waits to see what the Mighty Mo will do next.


Missouri River Residents Wait For Water Levels To Rise

In extreme northwestern Missouri, nearly 300 feet of an already weakened levee was ripped open.

As the water sprinted toward the tiny town of Hamburg, Iowa, crews added height to a temporary secondary levee, the last line of defense against the raging river.

The head of the Iowa National Guard landed in Hamburg, calling this city the Guard's base of operations in its fight against the flood.

Maj. General Tim Orr, Iowa National Guard: "This is just as bad, if not worse than what we saw in '93. It is really devastating. Two weeks ago I flew the river and it was in its banks. We thought there may be a risk here. Definitely by the widths of it here, it looks like one of the great lakes. This is a tragedy. What we're dealing with here is a sustained flood that may occur for two months from what we're hearing from the Corps of Engineers. We also have a lot of commerce up and down the river, agriculture and industry, its, its going to be a significant loss."

The town is nearly deserted, as most businesses in the downtown entered their second week of closure.

The Blue Moon Bar remained open behind a fortress of sand bags aimed at protecting the business that's survived the great flood of 1993, a previous high water mark for the region.

As customers came and went for news and information, the restaurant's owner says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to blame for the impending disaster.

Vicki Sjulin/Owner of Blue Moon: "We all believe it's pretty much from the same source, which is environmental, recreational has taken a top priority over flood control. I don't believe this was done on purpose, obviously, for tax payer reasons. We do believe that it was overlooked and as an oversight, just fireballed on them and created a monster, then they had no place to go with this water, but release it. We're going to be struggling with this, it's not going to be over when the water leaves, we'll still going to be struggling with this, and it's just going to be a community effort to keep it together. "

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said during a flood tour stop in South Sioux City, Nebraska that the blame game for the flood will have to wait while the fight is still on.

Gov. Dave Heineman, R - Nebraska: "Those are legitimate questions that need to be pursued with the Corps of Engineers. Senator Mike Johanns has clearly indicated that there will be an inquiry or an investigation. And I hope the corps will be very forthcoming. If everything was done properly, the citizens need to know that. If it was not done properly, we need to know why."

Volunteers helped South Sioux City prepare against the high water and a large sign made clear their work was appreciated.

Across the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa, businesses are in a holding pattern, waiting for the water to recede, which could take weeks, it not months to do. From this lookout point, residents could take in the history unfolding beneath them.

As Gavin's Point Dam in Yankton, South Dakota, releases more water than ever before, the impacts are wide spread.

Dakota Dunes, South Dakota is surrounded by temporary levees. Some water is still seeping behind the wall and into high-priced residential areas.

A temporary levee is holding, but patience is wearing thin for some in the region. The flood shows no prejudice inundating residential areas, commercial property and industrial facilities.

The nearly 1-million people in the Omaha and Council Bluffs metro area also are relying on levees to hold back the Missouri River.

Both cities riverfronts were taking on water as again, on-lookers took in the sights. Omaha prepared to welcome guests for the College World Series at a new stadium along the riverfront. While no water inside the stadium is expected, parking spots are disappearing from the rising water.

Roads not closed, remain open with water lapping at their lane markers all along the I-29 corridor. Detours are mounting, making travel in this region a challenge for tourists and truckers.

But the biggest loser in this flood likely will be rural farmland.

Farm fields all along the river are underwater. Early estimates put acreage lost, close to a million acres.

The damage to corn is not just a little standing water. In many spots, the entire plant is submerged while a few remaining leaves wave in the wind, helpless in the fight against mother nature.

Crop experts say the corn that is submerged now is lost, but once the water finally recedes -- between 2 to 3 months in some places -- farmers are on the clock to bring the soil back to life.

Aaron Saeugling/Field Agronomist ISU Extension: The longer the water sits on there, obviously you have decreased microbial activity. You kill those microbes off and there's a lot of those that aren't beneficial. So we get a fallow syndrome, essentially, so that ground will act like it's not been farmed before. So there may be some agronomics concerns we'll have to address as time goes on. You won't get the crop those farmers are used to seeing the first year where its back in a cropping scenario just because we need time to build up those microbes and that happens with the degradation of natural plant material that you have. Usual flood where we get some floods in Iowa and it goes off in a couple of days, maybe you get weeds or something like that actually grows during the year. What may happen in this case is if that water sits for, I have no idea what time it goes off, September or October, we're in to the peak fall season. So that soil could freeze, you won't get any activity until fall or the following spring."

Tags: floods Missouri River news rivers weather