Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Flood of 2011

Getting back into social circles since the Memorial Day holiday, all talk has been about the impending flood. Everyone I come in contact with, at the gym, talk in the hot tub, coffees, lunches, customers –all about the Missouri River.

Since 911 I do not remember talk almost solely about a single issue.

There seems almost universal agreement about the disastrous nature of this unwelcome occurrence. First things first, there hasn’t been a flood of this nature along Big Muddy since the construction of the Main Stem Dams. While floods were far more often prior to the Pick Sloan Plan they have not been seen at anything approaching this year. Perhaps after two generations floods of this magnitude have been forgotten by the majority who were not born when the Dams were constructed.

It seems ironic and many of those I talk to and read about are blaming the very Dams (or the management thereof) for this years flooding. Without question this past couple of year’s climate has been challenging.

Many feel that it’s the mismanagement by the Army Corps of Engineers that has caused the problem. When the crisis has subsided along with the water this will get a political airing, there is talk about lawsuits that will inevitably be filed by those looking to be made whole. I doubt they will go anywhere; however there will be immense political pressure on our Congressional delegation for federal financial help beyond the usual Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deal.

For a look at the Corps of Engineers response a peak at today’s report in “The Wall Street Journal”:

“Col. Bob Ruch, commander of the Corps's Omaha, Neb., district, said engineers had been releasing water from the reservoirs at a measured pace to clear way for snowmelt. But rains in eastern Montana over the last three weeks equaled a full year's normal total, he said, and "it filled up the space we created to take on the snowmelt, which still sits up in the mountains."

Now, the real danger is a rapid melt. To prepare for that, the Corps must act quickly. It began warning communities last week and is slowly increasing the amount of water in the river to give them time to prepare.

Flood and its aftermath talk will continue most of the summer and well beyond.

Straight Talk Commentary on two associated issues –

State Finances -What impact will the flood have on the already dreadful situation of State Government finances? How much of the emergency costs is the Corps of Engineers providing? What is the percentage and magnitude of FEMA assistance? How will the State pay the State share (%)? What will be the State’s out of pocket expense? Overtime? Reimbursement for other County and local governments (whose finance are stressed) for the assistance they are providing? How much will the increased social costs be for government assistance to the displaced? How much lost revenue will there be to South Dakota’s tourism industry? What longer term effects will there be on Pierre’s fishing industry? How many businesses will be affected with a loss in revenues? Many questions.

More than a year ago in response to what was then a very wet year throughout much of South Dakota, Governor Rounds raised the possibility of a temporary flood tax to help with the State FEMA match and other costs associated with flooding? Will State government look at such a tax again?

Governor’s Leadership – Governor Daugaard is providing proactive and steady leadership. He has been thoughtful, shown resolve, and been out ahead of the problem. Unlike Governors Miller’s reaction to the 1994 flooding and generally Governor Rounds’ wait and see reactions, our current Governor’s proactive approach is welcome.

It will be no surprise to those who know me, that I am a fan of former Governor Bill Janklow. Like Governor Daugaard, Governor Janklow dealt with problems before they got bigger (pro active), was a problem solver, and almost no one disagrees a great communicator. You would only have to remember Fireman Bill fighting forest fires or being driving into the ditch in the storm on I90 being one of the first to arrive at Spencer when they had the tornado. Like Patton in the movie, directing traffic, I envision Bill Janklow standing of the levees taunting the River to Bring It On!

(Getting off the subject here) One of my regrets is that Governor Janklow did not become the first Director of Homeland Security, or the Director of FEMA.