2011 – year of the epic floods

Categories: Calamities/Pestilence

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There’s no doubt that 2011 will be remembered for its epic flooding. And years from today, when people recall the events of this summer, one characteristic that surely will stand out is how the flooding unfolded with such agonizing slowness.

Along the Platte River and Missouri River in Nebraska, people are looking upstream with dread at the immense masses of water that are inexorably heading their way.

Superlatives continue to tumble from the mouths of experts. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jim Scarlett of the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, S.D. “The flooding is going to be all the way to St. Louis, and it’s going to be high all summer.”

The Gavins Point Dam already is releasing water at the rate of more than 100,000 cubic feet per second. The record set in the flood year of 1993 was 70,000 cubic feet per second. Later this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts it will be sending 150,000 cubic feet through the dam.

“It’s the biggest flood in terms of total water in the last 113 years on the Missouri River,” said Dave Becker, dam operations manager for the dam. Along the Platte River, the sense of foreboding was just as oppressive. The snowpack in the Rockies was 140 percent of normal, and the problem was exacerbated by heavy rainfall at lower altitudes in the North Platte basin. Parts of Montana received a year’s worth of rain in May alone.

Officials at Lake McConaughy opened a flood control device called the “Morning Glory” to permit water to flow faster through the dam. “We can’t find any records that we’ve done that before,” said Tim Anderson, spokesman for the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which operates the dam.

Thousand of people already have been evacuated from places like Minot, N.D., Hamburg, Iowa and Dakota Dunes near Sioux City. Along the path of the flooding, some property owners may not be able to return for weeks.

The high water drives home the lesson once again that the most cost-effective form of flood control simply is to prohibit construction in the floodplain.

As a result of flooding earlier in the year in the lower Mississippi, the federally subsidized flood insurance program already was about $18 billion in debt. Its financial condition obviously will worsen as the summer continues.

Thanks to former Congressman Doug Bereuter, who was a key sponsor of the Two Floods and You’re Out of the Taxpayer’s Pocket Act passed in the mid-1990s, the federal government is not on the hook for as much as it was in an earlier era. The flood of 2011 should prompt another assessment of current practices and policies on building in the floodplain. The deluge may be of historic proportions, but it can, and will, happen again. Tougher restrictions mean less damage, faster recovery and less heartache.

– Lincoln Journal Star

Lincoln, Neb.


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