NEBRASKA CITY – The US Army Corps of Engineers’ hydrological update at Nebraska City Thursday highlights a disconnect between local testimony and government statements.

According to the government, there are multiple purposes for the reservoirs and channel work in the Missouri River basin, but flood control has been the only priority since March of 2018. The corps maintains that more precipitation is resulting in more flooding.

Phil Peters


Reservoir manager Kevin Grode said 10 states are near record precipitation for the last six months.

Grode: "South Dakota has seen the wettest it’s ever been in 124 years worth of record.”

He said soil saturation is near 99 percent in much of the river basin and the National Weather Service’s 90-day outlook forecast higher than normal temperatures and wetter than normal precipitation.

In scenes familiar to Nebraska City meetings over the past two years, the public input claims a much different  scenario. Accusations are voiced  that the government favors flooding in certain areas to gain control over land.

Public input: “That was the mayor’s statement clear back in 2011, our job was to move out of the basin. That’s what he told a bunch down in St. Jo, so I’m just wondering how many years is this flood going to be here. We know it will be here next year, how about the continuation of that?”

State Sen. Julie Slama

Public input: “This land here has been farmed for over 100 years and through the years there have been a lot of floods, but there have never been floods that lasted six and eight months. That is not a flood. That is water that is put there.”

The applause from over 150 people at Steinhart Lodge Thursday was most frequent and loudest whenever there were claims that measures to benefit endangered species should be abandoned.

Col Torrey DiCiro

Public testimony: “The corps, under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has made a wider, slower moving river that floods and we no longer have a tamed river.”

The corps responds by saying fish and wildlife purposes or not a factor in the flooding predicament because record amount of upstream precipitation has dictated that all decisions are based on flood control priorities.

Col. Torrey DiCiro: “Since March of 2018, the system operational decisions have been driven solely by the flood control purpose. I want to share with everyone in the basin that the corps remains fully committed to our flood risk reduction mission.”

Phil Peters of Percival said the hydrological meetings have become tedious, with the corps describing conditions and noting that runoff is overwhelming capacity.

Phil Peters: “We know there is insurmountable water coming down the river because we deal with it daily, we want to know what you are going to do to fix that.”

Peters says a fish and wildlife purpose may not be directly pulling the levers on dam floodgates, but he called the purpose a factor in what happens to the water once its drops below Gavins Point.

Peters: “You’ve cut the wing dikes loose, you destabilized the banks, you’ve carved pockets back into the banks, hook them back up, speed the river up and get the water out. Quit letting it puddle and go slower around here because we don’t care about the fish or the bird.”

He said construction and river maintenance programs that slow the water to allow sand bars for birds and habitat for fish diminish the corps’ ability to drain upstream reservoirs quickly enough.

John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Water Management Division, told Peters that the river’s master manual does not create runoff. Peters responded, “nor does nature create a seven-month flood.”

Leo Ettleman

Leo Ettleman of Percival said runoff in 1997 set a new record high, but flooding then was localized. He said 1997 shows that it is management, not just runoff, that produces season-long flood events.

Leo Ettleman: “Why don’t we just go back. Why don’t we go back to the 1979 manual?

"We went 140 some years, from 1944 until, what was it?, 2010 or so without any flooding, since the ’52. Even in 1997 we had more runoff than in 1952, and we didn’t have a flood. 1997 was the highest runoff year in history until 2011, no floods.

"It wasn’t until the 2004 manual came along with the Fish and Wildlife interest that we started having these problems.

Col John Hudson

Let’s go back to the 1979 manual. It doesn’t matter how high you build these levees, how far you set them back, until you get the channel back to where it can handle the water, get the wing dikes back and get that flow conveyance that system will fail as well.”

Farmers told the corps that there has always been flooding along the river, but it lasted only days or weeks.  Farmers could use short-season crops to try and produce on land that had been flooded, but seven months under water puts them out of business.

Linda Cutler of Percival, Iowa, said the writing is on the wall for more flooding next spring.

Cutler: “My concern is, you are trying to manage a dam system that is almost full and we are just a few months away from spring runoff and rain. We all know that there is not enough time to evacuate the current dams in order to accept the 2020 spring runoff and rains.”

At Thursday’s meeting, the corps of engineers and National Weather Service continued to warn about elevated flood risks and the need for more reservoir storage.

Although the government claims that environmental and recreational purposes have not been a factor in river management, the public at Nebraska City continues to claim that long-term flooding could be prevented by a change in the master manual.

Remus: “As far as the endangered species activities that Mike Swensen talked about, those have to fit within our hydrologic constraints as well.”

Lyle Hodde says flooding is forcing him into early retirement from farming.

Hodde: “... a  percent of farm income, according to the D.C. economist, farm economists, comes from government payments -- disaster payments and federal crop insurance.

John Remus

"We are spending a lot of money on that. We’re spending a lot of money, billions of dollars, fixing levees that are going to break again. You are just patching old levees. They are not going to hold, so we’ve got to have a new system, a better system.”

When asked to pledge to ask for a change to the master manual, Remus said he would not. He said it is record hydrologic conditions, not public policy, that is causing flooding.

Public input: “Our lives have been destroyed. Let me go back to 2011. The levee broke right near our farm. We lost our house in a matter of hours. We lost 600 acres that could not be refurbished because we had sand dunes six feet high.”

State Sen. Julie Slama said she will ask the Nebraska Legislature to raise its voice in favor of flood control, but told the crowd Thursday that there is a larger audience to be persuaded.

Slama: “If you are wondering how can we get something through Congress, the key is not contacting your own senator and staying within the realm of the Midwest. Trust me they are all very much aware and they are definitely fighting for you, the key is looking at the senators, the congress people, on those key natural resource committees and targeting them, targeting other senators from the coasts.”

Remus said the corps is committed to emptying the upstream reservoirs to reach its storage targets and prepare for next spring’s runoff. He said he can not predict if it will flood or not.

Remus: “From a water management plan our point of view we are going to evacuate the flood control storage and we are going to be as aggressive as we can.”

Grode noted there are no reservoirs controlling runoff from the Platte River basin or areas of western Iowa.