By Joel M. Vance
It’s those damn fish again! Causing flooding, destroying levees, making the Missouri River unsafe for barge traffic.
According to a quartet of Missouri Republican Congresspeople, the periodic problems of the river are the direct result of protecting endangered species, like the pallid sturgeon. Consequently Rep. Sam Graves and three buddies have introduced a bill that would eliminate fish and wildlife concerns from the Corps of Engineers management of the river.
That’s the kind of thinking, if you can dignify it by calling it “thinking”, that has Congress with an approval rating somewhere near zero. “The Corps should not have to waste precious resources on building wildlife habitats,” Graves said. He is right on one point when he said the Corps is not suited for wildlife work—the Corps and its various projects have been about as friendly to wildlife as a cat is to a cornered mouse.
Graves and his band of environmental brigands maintain that the Corps should concentrate on navigation and flood control and forget about wildlife—the bill would, he maintains, reduce flooding. Hark back to 1951 when a flood of epic proportions flooded the Missouri and caused huge damage—all before anyone thought of fish and wildlife enhancement and before the Corps was tasked with helping undo the damage they were inflicting on the Missouri River.
It stands to reason (a concept that eludes the Republican quartet) that if you narrow a river it forces a given amount of water into a constricted channel, increasing the force of the water and setting the table for overtopping the levees you have to build to hold the water in so you can float barges without worrying about low water.
A series of dams on the upper Missouri theoretically provide water storage to allow a measured downstream flow. Except when, as happened in 2011, there is a huge snowpack melting into those reservoirs, coupled with heavy rains. Then the Corps has the option of watching its dams wash out or releasing a tidal wave of water to do exactly what happened—overtop levees and cause flood damage. In other words, the operation was a success but the patient died.
Graves was joined in his idiot bill by Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Vicki Hartzler and Billy Long. Hartzler, among my least favorite legislators, said this: “While preserving wildlife habitat is important, we cannot allow these narrow interests to take precedence over the lives and activities of farmers, businesses and residents on or near the river.”
So if you discount fish and wildlife habitat as a concern, all will be well with those who choose to live and farm in a flood plain. That’s just simple-minded. All the Corps work of 100 years, which was mainly to benefit a barge industry (speaking of narrow interests) which never has come close to paying for itself, did absolutely nothing to prevent huge floods in 1993 and 1995. Those bluff to bluff floods drove many landowners out of the bottoms and as a result the federal and state governments acquired (from willing sellers) the nucleus of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge and several state conservation areas.
A flood is at its least damaging when it is allowed to spread out, softly and without the scouring firehose effect of a channelized river. Levees are a stopgap measure, as the Corps found on the Mississippi River in 2011 when it had to breach a southeast Missouri levee at Birds Point and another at New Madrid. The blown levee flooded some 200 square miles of Missouri bottomland and did help mitigate the flood.
But it also made the point that man’s intrusion into nature inevitably gets squashed by a far greater power. All the bulldozers and dredges and implements of the river manipulators pale when nature decides to declare a flood.
As Gomer Pyle would say, Su’prise! Su’prise!” Sam Graves has the dishonor to be one of Congress’s Dirty Dozen, selected by the League of Conservation Voters. He has voted against everything even remotely connected with conservation and the environment. The highest percentage he’s ever gotten for favorable environ
mental votes was 10 percent. Last year it was three percent.
Hartzler is taking time out from gay bashing to help her buddy bash some endangered species, but she’s a virtual tree hugger compared to Graves, with a 10 percent LCV rating. Aside from her anti-fish stand, she thinks hate crimes are part of an “extreme agenda items of the gay movement.” Yes and those damn fruits are all fish lovers too. How people like this can claim the Golden Rule as a guidepost and
be so hateful is beyond me.
Lutkemeyer has a seven percent rating from the LCV, and is widely regarded as a mouthpiece for Big Oil (along with his fellow Missouri Republican Roy Blunt). Project Vote Smart, a group that tries to pin down candidates on issues so voters can make intelligent choices, says this: “Blaine Luetkemeyer refused to tell citizens where he stands on any of the issues addressed in the 2012 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests from Vote Smart, national media, and prominent political leaders.”
But by golly he finally is taking a stand. He’s opposed to those goddam fish! Way to go, Blaine!
And then there’s Billy Long, the last member of the quartet (if they were a barbershop quartet, they’d be singing “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But Our Own”). Apparently he’s shooting for Graves’s dismal LCV overall rating. He’s at three percent equivalent to Graves’s three percent. Got a ways to go, though—Blunt is only two percent and thus can claim credit as Missouri’s most Neanderthal environmental legislator—for the time being.
I’m ashamed to be from a beautiful, diverse state with the nation’s best, most progressive conservation program that consistently elects shambling knuckledraggers like this quartet of thumb-suckers. We did get rid of Todd Akin, but only because he insulted enough women to insure defeat. But we elect a woman like Hartzler who must be taking regressive lessons from Akin.
The Missouri River in its namesake state is a priceless resource, not the least of which is its recreation, wildlife and environmental value. The idea that the Missouri is vital for transportation of farm goods is a fiction. Missouri River barges carry an average of 1.5 million tons of goods, compared to nearly 100 million tons on the Mississippi River. The Missouri ships less than two percent of the grain from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. And according to the Corps itself, the Missouri provides annual economic benefits of less than $10 million for farm interests, compared to $1.3 billion from other sources, including recreation (of course you can legitimately argue that the Corps, when it lacks provable data, simply makes it up).
. Aside from the river itself, a fine canoe float when the water is low, there is associated business associated with recreation along the river. The Katy Trail parallels the River for much of its length, and there is a string of wineries that attract many tourists. Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is unique in the state for using wastewater from Columbia to flood its wetlands, benefiting ducks, hunters, Columbia and the River. The idea is nationally-recognized.
Another idea that could be recognized as intelligent would be to maximize and encourage recreation and tourism on the Big Muddy instead of discouraging it in favor of special and destructive interests.
But that would take intelligent legislators. Don’t hold your breath.