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Impressive list of speakers show up for annual Missouri levee meeting

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tom Waters, president of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association presented Missouri Governor Jay Nixon with a plaque during the association's annual meeting February 11 in Columbia. The inscription thanked the governor for "exceptional leadership and dedication to Missouri's Levee and Drainage Districts. More than 250 farmers and MLDDA members attended the meeting which featured speeches from not only Nixon, but two U.S. representatives, both Missouri Senators, and several top corps officials including the Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy.
With a large number of security present, approximately 250 farmers, levee sponsors, government and Army Corps of Engineer officials spent an afternoon and evening listening to an impressive lineup of speakers at the annual Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association meeting Feb.11, at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia.

"The senators and the representatives, and the governor and the top person in the Corps of Engineers," said Tom Waters, president of MLDDA. "It was just an amazing night."

The afternoon speakers included Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, Governor Jay Nixon, and U.S. representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer and Vicky Hartzler, Colonels Anthony Hofmann, Kansas City District Engineer of USACE, Colonel Robert Ruch, USACE Omaha District Commander, Jody Farhat, Chief Resevoir Control Center, USACE. Other speakers were Marshall White, a reporter with the St. Joseph News Press who gave an overview of the flood in northwest Missouri, along with Kevin Mainord, who spoke about the Bird's Point New Madrid flooding of the Mississippi River.

Several top Army Corps of Engineers spoke at the annual MLDDA meeting in Columbia. After their presentations they answered a few audience questions. From left are Colonel Anthony Hofmann, Kansas City district; Jody Farhat, chief reservoir control center, Colonel Robert J. Ruch, Omaha district and MLDDA president Tom Waters.
The keynote speaker for the evening session, which included dinner, was Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo Ellen Darcy. Other evening speakers were Jud Kneuvean, from the chief emergency management branch of the USACE Kansas City district, Robert Vincze, MLDDA's representative on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, and Kevin Low, service coordination hydrologist with NOAA National Weather Service.

The "who's who" list of speakers seems to indicate a huge change in momentum for river issues, which has been weighed down in the past by competing purposes, including recreation, environmental issues, farming, flood control and navigation.

After the upper Missouri Basin was hit by record water in the Flood of 2011, officials from the seven Missouri River states are now agreeing for the first time perhaps ever, that flood protection should be the main priority of the river.

Saline County farmer Mendell Elson made some comments during the annual MLLDA meeting in Columbia. He was just one of several members who asked questions and commented to legislators and Army Corps of Engineer officials.
"There are seven democrats and seven republicans, interestingly, from those seven states but those 14 senators and the seven governors for a moment at least are in full agreement that the number one priority of river management on the Missouri River needs to be flood protection," Blunt told the audience. "I am not sure how long that agreement will last, but my opinion is we should do the best to make the most of it while everybody is in line for the first time ever."

Both Blunt and McCaskill, who have worked together on the issue, both addressed the discrepancy in the corps budget, which shows more than $73 million for environmental concerns, including habitat restoration and purchasing farmland, while approximately $7 million was spent for river maintenance.

"We are united, democrat and republicans, and we are united north and south, and you are going to see us say absolutely not in the disparity of funding in flood control and habitat maintenance," McCaskill said.

Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy was the keynote speaker at the annual Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association meeting held Feb. 11, in Columbia.
After Blunt asked for audience comments and questions, Saline County farmer Mendell Elson drew applause with his comments, the first regarding letters he received from the corps during the summer's flooding.

"I'm a little concerned about the fact the Corps manages water releases on one hand then on the other hand they're sending me letters to buy my farmland, when they are flooding me out and I can't produce a crop," Elson said. "It kind of weakens one's resolve to stay in there. I think there is a little conflict of interest."

He also noted the problem with a growing population and the need to grow more food.

"I believe it is critically important to allow some of the most productive farmland in the U.S. to produce at its full capacity," Elson said.

During his speech, Governor Nixon also spoke about the productivity of the Missouri and Mississippi River bottomland.

"The land protected by levees in the state of Missouri is among the most economically viable land we have in our state," he said, noting Missouri just set a new high for crop exports. "It is where we grow our crops. It is where we feed the world."

Much of Nixon's address focused on the recovery efforts and the coordination of emergency management efforts from his staff. He began by introducing his wife and several other staff members in attendance.

In light of the year marked by disasters in the state, including record snowstorms, the Bird's Point flooding in the Mississippi River, the Joplin tornado and the Missouri River Flood, Waters introduced Nixon as, "our leader in times of disaster," and he received a standing ovation.

He spoke about resilient Missourians and vowed the state would do everything they could to make sure the levees on the Missouri River and the Mississippi River would be rebuilt to the same height as before the flood.

"I want to tell you as chief executive of the State, we are going to work with everybody and provide the resources and help. Whatever it takes to rebuild the system as good if not better than it was before these floods we've had these last few years," Nixon said. "We are going to make it happen."

He also spoke about the current agreement with upper basin states on the main priority for the Missouri River -- flood protection and the need to continue momentum.

"Last year's historic snowfall and huge floods upstream finally let some of our brothers and sisters upstream feel like what we feel like every darn year," he said. "We need to continue to press the point, even if there isn't a flood this year -- and we hope there is not."

He commended the MLDDA members for taking the time to work on changes for the operation of the Missouri River.

"The policy part of what you do really, really matters," he said.

Speakers from the Army Corps of Engineers didn't focus on the Flood of 2011's cause but on the flood fight and the levee repairs.

Waters set the tone before he introduced the Hofmann, Ruch and Farhat, noting he asked them to not talk about what caused the flood.

"I think that I want to move forward and talk about where we are headed," Waters said.

Both Colonels Hofmann and Ruch talked about the flood response from corps members and about levee rebuilding efforts.

Hofmann noted the levee system had never been tested as it was in 2011, with more than 145 days of record high water.

"Without that system in place, the levees you maintained and the flood fights you won, more than $7.6 billion worth of damage could have occurred without that system in place," he said. "And that is a tribute to the (levee) sponsors for keeping the maintenance up on that."

After a $1.7 billion disaster bill was passed by Congress, the funds needed for levee repair are now available.

"We have the funding we need to go forward," he said. "It is our task to get it fixed -- I got it -- and again that is our number one priority in the district."

The main speaker of the evening session was Jo Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army-Civil Works, who flew in from Washington, D.C.

Noting she had been in Missouri during the Flood of 2011, she commended the people and organizations who worked together to fight the high water.

"I am in awe of the long hours and the commitment that was displayed by all of the organizations represented here tonight," she said. " You must be commended for your tremendous and historic operation in dealing with the record setting levels on the Missouri River. Lives, homes, as well as infrastructure were saved because of the hard work done by all of you."

Besides Elson, several other Saline County farmers were at the meeting.

Following the afternoon session, they said they were encouraged by what they had heard from the politicians.

"I liked what I heard from the governor and Hartzler and McCaskill," said Wayne Brown, a farmer and landowner in the Cambridge Levee District. "They all seemed to be on the same page and I haven't ever seen that before."

Brent Sandidge, also from the Cambridge Levee District, agreed.

"It's great you have democrats and republicans in agreement," Sandidge said. "We've got momentum now, and lets hope we can continue to move forward."

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Amen, farmerwife. I always thought the Corps of Engineers was supposed to help us deal with mother natures surprises, not make them worse.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Mon, Feb 13, 2012, at 3:51 PM

I do hope that we will get something out of this besides speeches--like some levys in before planting time. If folks think food is high now, better be sure levys are in before planting or we will see how high prices can go!! The fuel and input costs keep going up, and farmers are going to be reluctant to gamble that many dollars on whether the folks controling the river will let them possibly have a normal year--whatever that is--and yes, we know Mother Nature has a hand in this but we are not as concerned as much about her as we are the corps and others who do have some control. I too wish there could be more hands-on farmers in the decision making.

-- Posted by farmerwife on Mon, Feb 13, 2012, at 3:42 PM

A rare event here has occured. Nope, not the flood.

It appears we have achieved some level of agreement between our various politicians and bureaucrats. Time will tell if it is all election year talk.

Perhaps the two political parties and other government departments should come and let Missouri farmers help them make some more decisions.

Oh, yeah, and whoever the bonehead in charge of controlling water releases upstream was apparently needs some additional 'training' and significant guidance in the future.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Mon, Feb 13, 2012, at 11:32 AM

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