By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) — Roger Ideker’s farm near St. Joseph, Missouri, was under water in 2011 from June until September.
For years he fought the federal government, specifically the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who he blamed for his flooded bottom land near the Missouri River.
In 2018, a court finally ruled that the Corps was responsible for reoccurring floods that severely damaged Ideker’s farm — for several years post-2004, except 2011 — and on March 11, 2019, the court finally moved to the compensation portion of the case.
Despite his court victory, Ideker said little has changed.
Before he could even get his payout from the federal government, historic flooding took place days later — and his farm is under water yet again.
This week, Ideker’s 2,000-acre corn and soybean farm is affected by the Missouri River as it is on track to crest at both Brownville and Rulo, Nebraska. As of Tuesday morning, the river was at more than 9 feet above flood stage at 43.7 feet near Brownville and 27.4 feet at Rulo.
“In 2011, we had water staying on the farm starting on the third week of June and it was there up to the first of September, but it was not as deep and not the whole farm was covered,” Ideker said.
As for 2019, “This event was a relatively quick hitter. We’re hoping it’s going to go down and we’ll get some sunny, dry weather,” he said.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that 70 miles of I-29 was closed from St. Joseph to the Iowa border, and about 100 roads are closed in Missouri.
“We’re totally inundated — a repeat of 2011,” he said, adding that he thinks spring planting is up in the air.
“I wouldn’t say we’re not going to get a crop in, but it’s not definite that we are. It’s going to depend on how fast the water can get off the farm. If we can get the water drained off in the next 30 days and get some good temps, I think it’s a possibility of getting a crop in. If we get a lot of rain and the river stays relatively high, we may not have a crop.”
At this point, he still sounds more hopeful than in 2011.
SUED FOR CHANGES TO FLOOD MANUAL
Ideker and hundreds of other farmers sued the Corps of Engineers for changes made to the Corps’ flood manual that led to unprecedented releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota following heavy spring rains and snowmelt in Montana in 2011. The Corps released large volumes of water from that dam in 2011 and all of the levees along Ideker’s farm were destroyed.
Ideker sued the federal government and a federal court sided with his claims that changes made to the Corps’ flood manual in 2004 contributed to flooding on his farm prior to 2011. However, 2011 won’t be part of the compensation.
He wasn’t the only one affected by these past floods. Nor is he the only one waiting for compensation as the farmers deal with floods again in 2019.
FARMERS AWAIT COMPENSATION
The 2011 flood caused an estimated $2 billion in damage in several states. The Corps had to make unprecedented water releases from northern dams, flooding farms and communities in the lower basin and bringing into question whether the Corps handled the situation correctly. Many landowners downstream blamed the Corps’ water release for exacerbating the flood. A task force later found the Corps did all it could to manage the water.
Still, 382 farmers, landowners and businesses sued the U.S. government for $250 million in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. in 2014, claiming they are due compensation for land unlawfully taken in the flood.
Then in 2018, a judge in the court ruled that Corps management decisions were responsible for recurring floods that destroyed farm ground along the Missouri River.
In her ruling, Judge Nancy B. Firestone said that in five of the six years in question dating back to 2007, the Corps violated the takings clause in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by not compensating farmers for flood-damaged land. She disallowed flood claims in 2011. Firestone ruled the Corps deprioritized flood control in 2004. That year, the Corps instituted the Missouri River Recovery Program to accelerate changes to the river to enhance wildlife habitats.
Phase one of the case was the trial that concluded in 2018.
Then on March 11, 2019, the court issued an order to begin the compensation phase. Farmers are expected to receive compensation in the neighborhood of $300 million.
In her 259-page opinion, Firestone said the evidence established the Corps’ changes to the river “had the effect of raising the Missouri River’s water surface elevations in periods of high flows.” The court found that since 2007, flooding has been among the worst in the history of the river, and the Corps’ changes in management either caused or contributed to the flooding.
Unfortunately, flooding is hitting the farms in 2019 and frustrated farmers see the dam as a factor again.
The Corps’ opened the gates at Gavins Point Dam last week, releasing about 100,000 cubic feet per second as flood waters raged across Nebraska, although the Corps did adjust the amounts at times during the next few days.
The rushing water is still a danger to Ideker and other farmers.
“I don’t blame it all on the Corps,” he said.
“But there would be substantially less flooding if at Gavins Point it could have more storage capacity. It could have prevented some of this runoff.”
Although the current flooding on his farm is not connected to the lawsuit, Ideker said he’s hopeful the latest disaster will raise awareness about the difficulties landowners continue to face.
“Politically I would hope it would make a difference,” he said. “The federal government has the power to start making changes on this river. Hopefully with the terrible things happening, maybe legislators will realize something has to be done here. It’s not just a farmer issue, it’s an economic issue. We have I-29 closed now.”
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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