Approximately 30 farmers, along with representatives from levee districts and federal and state agencies, gathered in a conference room at the Isle of Capri Casino. The meeting was a chance "to get everyone up to speed" on current issues regarding the Missouri River, according to MLDDA president Tom Waters.
The timing of the meeting was set before the first of the Army Corps of Engineers Annual Operating Plan meetings in the area. One was held Tuesday in St. Joseph, a second one was scheduled for Overland Park, Ks. for Wednesday and a third will be held Thursday, Oct. 27, at Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. Each meeting includes an afternoon open house from 1-4 p.m. to meet with Corps officials one-on-one and an evening meeting at 7 p.m.
"Mostly today was just to update everybody about what is going on and do a little prep work, before these Annual Operating Plan meetings ," Waters said.
In attendance were representatives for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, including some from the Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources offices. Representatives from Sen. Claire McCaskill and Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer's office also spoke to the group.
Because the 2011 flooding affected northern states more than ever before, Bill Bryan, a representative from Gov. Nixon's office reported governors from seven out of the eight basin states have agreed "flood control was the top priority for the Missouri river system."
"That was something we had never had before," he said, adding the only hold out state has been Montana. "I don't think we are going to have all eight states agree on this, but we have a very strong agreement, and commitment to work together from the other seven state governors."
At the second governor's meeting held on Oct. 17 in Nebraska, Bryan was there in person, while Nixon joined the discussion via telephone. In what Bryan called, "a one-time" offer, North Dakota suggested lowering one of their large basin lakes by 2.5 feet in order to provide more storage room for excess water. Bryan said the state is currently reviewing the proposal and asked those at the meeting for input.
In other reports, representatives from the governor's office said they are currently trying to meet with levee sponsors from across the state to "make sure" accurate assessments on damage is being done.
"The primary mission is to find out where the gap is between what the Corps will pay for or any other federal agency and where the levee districts are," said one representative from the governor's office, adding though, they couldn't make any promises about funding.
Among the issues, board members said they would bring up at the Corps' meetings were the need to restore levees to pre-2011 conditions; making flood control the highest priority in river management; analyzing the channels so navigation of the river is possible and getting rid of the "spring rise" permanently. Although it has been temporarily suspended for 2012, an independent science panel recently concluded the spring rise did not help in conserving the endangered pallid sturgeon.
Another topic of discussion during the meeting was the dike system, which was originally put in to channelize the river. However, according to farmers, "notches" made in the dikes and lack of maintenance by the Corps in recent years, has caused the protection to erode. With that, the water instead erodes river banks and eventually the levees themselves.
"If you don't manage the dikes, you don't have navigation. If you don't manage the dikes, you don't have bank stabilization. If you don't have bank stabilization, then it eats into the levees," said one farmer at the meeting. "Stay on point, all four are the same thing, we can't do one without the other."
One topic discussed by many in attendance was the need to contact legislators to change the way the Corps operates the Missouri River.
"Flood them with letters, flood them with phone calls," urged Holt County assessor Carla Markt, who handed out contact information of Corps members and legislators.
"We had a $110 million lost in corn and bean crop this year--that's a huge amount, just in the raw crop. That's not counting what you make out of it in the factory," she said, adding more than 2,500 items in grocery stores contain those crops. Holt County in northern Missouri was one of the state's counties hardest hit by the summer's flooding.
"Two things that seem to make the Corps move: lawsuits and congressional lawmaking," noted Waters, a farmer from Orrick, who has worked on river issues for over 20 years.
Other issues discussed at the meeting were:
--The lopsided spending from the Corps' on environmental issues, as opposed to flood control. Markt handed out a graph, prepared by a banker in Atchison County. According to those numbers, the Corps' spending for flood control has declined 98.8 percent from 2002-2012 to just $137,000. In the same time, spending on environmental issues has increased 562.6 percent to more than $72 million. Spending on navigation has declined 4.4 percent, according to the graph.
--Problems with funding for rebuilding levees to pre-2011 conditions, as opposed to lower heights, which the Corps currently recommends. According to Waters, Corps officials have claimed they don't have the money to fund rebuilding, but also have said they haven't asked legislators for funding either.
--Concerns that some Corps officials and environmentalists want the river to return to "pre-European" settlement conditions, i.e. "bank to bank;
--Letters sent out to landowners from government agencies offering to buy river bottom ground during the summer's flooding;
--Low-water habitats constructed by Corps to preserve the endangered pallid sturgeon, have washed out from this summer's flooding and are no longer "low water." This has apparently caused new problems for navigation from Blair, Neb. and south.
Board members also talked about the need for more farmers and landowners to take an active interest in the organization, especially for their annual meeting.
"It would be a lot better if we had 400 people sitting out there (for the annual meeting)," said Joe Gibbs, who has spent several years as the MLDDA Association representative on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC).
After discussion the MLDDA annual meeting was set for Feb. 11, 2012. Waters said he was currently working on getting speakers for the event.
Contact Marcia Gorrell at firstname.lastname@example.org