"Climate Denier Steve King: ‘Unprecedented’ Flood Of Missouri River ‘Couldn’t Have Been Anticipated’"
On Friday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) gave a moving speech on the unprecedented flooding unfolding along the Missouri River basin due to record levels of precipitation. He told of the terrible cost of this ongoing climate disaster to residents of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, saying “we will lose businesses over the long-term and we’ll lose people over the long-term who can’t get back into their homes.” He correctly noted that the flood — which may last the entire summer — is “unprecedented in duration” and “unprecedented in volume,” and “unprecedented in modern recorded history.”
Calling for the the president to declare a national disaster for the entire region, King said that he and other members of Congress are “determined to do all we can to help” the residents of the Missouri River basin. King also claimed that the extreme precipitation that led to this “semipermanent” flooding “couldn’t have been anticipated,” and that flood officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “could not have known that they were going to get the heavy snowfalls” and “[n]either could they have known there would be this huge unseasonal rain”:
In very, very late March and in early April heavy snows in the mountains began and the snow pack began to build in the mountains and they couldn’t have been anticipated to 140% of the anticipated volume of snow that would have to, of course, melt and come down the Missouri River. . . .
Corps of Engineers could not have known that they were going to get the heavy snowfalls that would come down on the mountains, that would be melting even now. Perhaps half of that snow is melted today and the balance of it still has to melt. They couldn’t have known that until the snow actually arrived in late March and earlier April. Neither could they have known there would be this huge unseasonal rain that would run off to the extent it did and saturate the soil so that the big rains that hit Billings, as I mentioned, would run off to the extent that it did. . . .
That’s unprecedented in duration. It’s unprecedented in volume. This is more water than has ever come down the Missouri River in a year that we know of since we’ve been reporting these records. . . .
I appreciate the Iowa delegation for standing with me and the delegations up and down the river who have stood together. We need to stand with the people whose property is under water and help them get through this. They are stoic people, they’re determined people. They’re not going to be standing there complaining, they’re going to be doing all they can to help themselves and to honor their effort, I and others are determined to do all we can to help them.
The Missouri River basin flood is not a “natural disaster,” as King describes, but a human-made one. Man-made climate change, land-use change, and engineering the river have combined to create this unprecedented disaster.
Scientists have warned for decades that the carbon pollution in our atmosphere would increase extreme precipitation events and flooding, and extreme precipitation events have significantly increased in the Midwest over the past several decades. In 2000, a federal scientific report specifically warned of greater flooding in the Midwest. Scientific projections are that precipitation intensity will continue to increase as carbon pollution builds up in the future.
“Because climate change will significantly modify many aspects of the water cycle, the assumption of an unchanging climate is no longer appropriate for many aspects of water planning,” the U.S. Global Change Research Program warned in 2009. The report cautioned that flood-management practices by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “based on historical flood data” would need to be changed.
“There are very clear statistics on increasing extremes of heavy rains that are directly linked to climate change and global warming,” top climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells ThinkProgress. “The planning has not adequately taken these changes into account. This disaster is not a natural event but has the human signature all over it.”
It seems as if King is actually doing everything he can to harm his constituents’ efforts to deal with these threats. In December 2010, as Congress was considering major climate legislation, King mocked the existence of global warming. In recent months, he has voted to overturn the scientific endangerment finding on climate pollution and prevent the establishment of the NOAA Climate Service, and has voted to block the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture from planning for climate-change-related disasters.
“The liberals, the environmentalists, the extremists, the Al Gores of the world were wrong on the science,” King claimed in the winter of 2010. He argued that the extreme, record precipitation during that winter throughout the United States disproved the science behind global warming, because it came down as snow. “Sorry, Al. But I’ve got a scoop shovel for you if you want to come any place in the fifty states in America. For the first time in the history of keeping records, there’s snow on the ground on all fifty states. It’s tough to make an argument when the evidence is all around us in a snowy white crystal cathedral.”
Given that scientists have accurately warned of the risks of unprecedented, catastrophic flooding to his state, and given that King claims to care about the safety and well-being of his constituents, it’s time for King to apologize for his denial of climate science and become a conservative champion for action against climate pollution.
When asked if he had changed his position on global warming after studying the flood, King’s spokesperson Brittany Lesser told ThinkProgress, “I don’t know that, no.”
I find that I don’t believe any member of any delegation has yet come to the floor to talk about the natural disaster events that have been taking place in the Midwest and in particular in the Missouri River basin area. And I’m one who has grown up in that drainage basin area. I lived there on the great divide for most of my life. We’ve eclipsed the 500-year flood event in 1996. In 1996 more water came down the Missouri River than ever before and it was the largest amount of cubic feet per second and the largest amount of a million acre per feet that came down.
I’d say there was a couple of events that would compete with that depending on how you define it, Mr. Speaker. One would be a flood in 1943 that brought the attention of the world and we were in the middle of a World War. We didn’t get to addressing the massive runoff in the Missouri River from the ’43 flood event. In 1952, the huge floods came again, and more water for a single month came down the Missouri River than ever before or since and that amounted to a discharge — excuse me — in million acre-feet of 13.2 million acre-feet of water came down in the single month of April in 1952. That, of course, flooded everything. It put the higher of water than ever. It brought attention to the Congress.
This Congress, paying particular attention to what happened in the flood event in 1952, followed through on some plans that had been discussed after the 1943 flood, and they began to take action and move forward for the construction of what we now known as the picks loan program. It’s a construction of six large dams on the Upper Missouri River, and it starts at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota and goes up to Fort Randall Dam, Oahe, and on up into North Dakota where you see Garrison Dam in Fort Peck. I left out Big Bend.
We have these dams that are all built on the main stem of the Missouri River, but they collect water from all the tributaries and the water we have coming down through the Midwest out of Montana into North Dakota where it’s flooding now and flooding also across South Dakota all across the bottoms and spilling out of the six dams one after another at discharge rates than we’ve seen never before. The highest most water to come down the river since the six dams were built starting in the 1950’s and finishing in the early 1960’s. the discharge level at Gavins Point Dam, the lowest one, in South Dakota, is now approaching 160,000 cubic feet per second. That’s more discharge than we’ve seen before.
The result is we’re in a flood stage all down this river in the areas I mentioned and from below the dams we also the Missouri River is at flood stage. Some of it has not arrived at St. Louis in its peak form. Because of this it has flooded some of our communities and it has flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of our farmland. It’s caused us to build many miles of levees that some design is temporary and some would describe as permanent and some I hope do stay permanent because the water will be semipermanent.
This is not, Mr. Speaker, a short-term flood event that just happened because the clouds opened up and it gushed down into the river and it’s going to wash by us and be gone in a few days like many floods are. This is a long-term national disaster flood event for the entire Missouri River basin all the way from Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. This is the highest water level that we have seen since the picks loan program was built and in some places it’s the highest water we’ve seen. It will certainly be the longest term that we’ll be underwater that has ever been.
And so as I travel up and down the river, and I have the privilege, Mr. Speaker, of representing all of the Missouri River that Iowa touches. that would be from the Sioux City area where the Missouri River comes out of South Dakota and joins us and providers the western border of Iowa between Iowa and Nebraska is all Missouri River. Nebraska’s on one side, Iowa is on the other side, both of us underwater on both sides of the river. It’s also true in South Dakota.
But the water that’s coming down the river in this massive quantity has brought about a lot of criticism and a lot of scrambling.
First, I want to say, Mr. Speaker, that the events that brought us to this are unprecedented in modern recorded history in this that of all of the area that the picks loan program has, all of the drainage of the Missouri River and Upper Missouri River, in particular, the Corps of Engineers watch the precipitation, they watch the snowcap and anticipate how much water they’ll have.
We’ve had an eight-year record drought in the Upper Missouri River. So these reservoirs, these six huge reservoirs that were not designed for the primary purpose at all of fish and recreation but were designed for navigation and electrical generation and cool the generators for coal-fired generators, these reservoirs have been very, very valuable to the states, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana because the tourism industry for recreational and fishing has so high grated to those beautiful areas that they have. When they’re out of water, when the pool drains down during an eight-year drought which they had it might be three quarters of a mile from where your dock was, where your boat was tied up to where the water actually is.
We’ve engaged in a struggle on the floor of the House of Representatives about who gets the water when there was a short water supply. Congressman Denny Rehberg has tried to keep as much water up in Montana. I found myself in disagreement trying to get the water down the river so we had enough to cool our generators, float our boats and bring some barge traffic up and provide for flood control.
The eight-year drought is over, Mr. Speaker. It’s completely over. And it was actually over the last year and a half or so as the water levels in these six dams that thinking of them as six huge bathtubs that are nearly dry, the water level in the six huge dams have been coming up in the last year and a half or more. And in the last year it’s caught up to the designed pool elevations and then they had enough rain in the Upper Missouri River that it overfilled the six dams.
The Corps of Engineers, operating under the master manual guidelines, which is the playbook that they have to manage these six dams by, lowered the pool elevations in the dam so they had storage to be prepared for any future flood. They’re required under the master manual to manage these levels so they have 16.3 million acre-feet of storage capacity to manage the flood. they drew it down to that level, both normal pool elevations, I will call them. They did so over the wintertime and that was fine. Oh, throughout November, December, January, February and early March, stability within those pool levels, storage capacity of 16.3 million acre-feet, they’re prepared for spring rains, they’re prepared for the snow runoff. That’s manageable.
Then in very, very late March and in early April heavy snows in the mountains began and the snow pack began to build in the mountains and they couldn’t have been anticipated to 140% of the anticipated volume of snow that would have to, of course, melt and come down the Missouri River. In addition to that, they had spring rains across the Upper Missouri basin, across the plains and the foothills of the mountains and those spring rains flowed down into the reservoirs and overfilled them as well. And once that had happened it was a situation where the storage capacity and the reservoirs was diminished significantly.
And an unusual event took place on May 22. That’s when Billings, Montana, got eight inches of rain and some of the other areas got 10 and 12 inches of rain. It was across the vast area of the Upper Missouri basin. As that water came down into the reservoirs, the Corps of Engineers began to watch the runoffs and declared they had a rare event, an event that the program was not designed to handle with ease and they announced to us on that day, May 22, they would open up the gates of the dams so that the lowest one at Gavins Point in South Dakota which is the one where we watch the flow for the rest of the river they would be flowing at 110,000 cubic feet per second. That was May 22 or early May 23. By the 26th of May, the Corps of Engineers had evaluated the flow rate in the tributaries and the rain reports that they had and the forecast and announced they had to increase that flow to 150,000 cubic feet per second.
That makes a tremendous difference, Mr. Speaker, because the result of that necessary decision that the corps of engineers made, was that the water tables would go up, the water levels would go up in the river above flood stage for what turns out to be almost the entire flow and maybe actually the entire flow of the Missouri River downstream from the dam and also the flow that’s coming through upstream for the dam that’s flooding significant areas, residential areas, commercial property areas, ag land, in vast amounts all the way up through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and flowing into Kansas. That’s the situation we have.
When I go back and look at this — and I should say, Mr. Speaker, that my life’s work has been the earth-moving business. we’ve gone in and built levees and dug ditches and built terraces and waterways and dams. We bid work on the Missouri River, flood control work on the Missouri River. I watched the flows, studied the flows, floated the river for recreational purposes and for engineering reasons and I dealt as a state senator in Iowa for six years and now a member of Congress into my ninth year with the public policies that have to do with the water coming down the river and the species that are affected by it.
All of this together, if I look back upon it and try to become a Monday morning quarterback, Mr. Speaker, I’ll come to this conclusion that, yes, knowing what we know today it would have been possible to prevent this long-term flooding that we have in the Missouri River bottom. But that’s knowing what we know today. Corps of Engineers could not have known that they were going to get the heavy snowfalls that would come down on the mountains, that would be melting even now. Perhaps half of that snow is melted today and the balance of it still has to melt. They couldn’t have known that until the snow actually arrived in late March and earlier April. Neither could they have known there would be this huge unseasonal rain that would run off to the extent it did and saturate the soil so that the big rains that hit Billings, as I mentioned, would run off to the extent that it did.
But once they knew about the flows coming in they made the decision that they had to make, Mr. Speaker, and we are where we are. Now, we’re watching 160,000 cubic feet per second come out of Gavins Point. That’s more than ever before. The water table is above the flood stage all the way along the Missouri River from below Gavins Point and I presume that the gentleman that represents North Dakota and the gentlelady that represents South Dakota can speak to those issues up there and I imagine that they can say they have floods all the way up and down the Missouri River bottom completely from throughout the Dakotas and likely Montana.
But, Mr. Speaker, these water levels are going to stay and they are going to stay for all of the rest of June, likely all the rest of July and partway into August, most likely, and in fact these water levels could stay into September or October, depending on whether we get unseasonably high rains. If there’s additional rains, then these water levels or even higher levels could be with us for a long time to come, on into the fall.
The people that live in these states I have mentioned have to live with high water for a long period of time. Not like a tornado that comes and blows away your homes and businesses and allows you to go back and — when the sun comes out and go back and rebuild. This is not like a tornado, not like a hurricane, not even like a flood, a normal flood. A normal flood will come up and wash over you and wash away some things and soak the rest and the water table will go down. even on the Mississippi River where the water comes up slow and goes down slow, this eclipses the duration of any flood that I know in that the Corps of Engineers, without a lot of choice, by June 14 of this month had opened up the gates to 150,000 cubic feet per second and now as of today about 160,000 cubic feet for second and that discharge, the water that floods the Missouri River bottom completely will continue to be with us for two months, perhaps, perhaps more.
That’s unprecedented in duration. It’s unprecedented in volume. This is more water than has ever come down the Missouri River in a year that we know of since we’ve been reporting these records. I said 16.43 million acre-feet of storage capacity they have, but the projected flow out of the Missouri River for this year is 54 million acre-feet and that’s more than even came down in the 1993 floods, which was a 500-year flood event or at least described to be the same. I lived under that, Mr. Speaker. It flooded four of my major projects and changed my life and the long story I won’t tell here, but I might not be in this Congress had it not been for the 1993 flood which completely redirected my life. This flood is redirecting the lives of thousands of people up and down the Missouri River bottom. It’s changing businesses, it’s changing residences.
I’m convinced, Mr. Speaker, that we will lose businesses over the long-term and we’ll lose people over the long-term who can’t get back into their homes.
To give an example, and it’s a South Dakota example in the Dakota Dunes. It is a region built around a golf course, the Dakota Dunes Golf Course, just outside of Iowa, outside of the North Sioux City which some might call it a suburb of Sioux City, but people with wherewithal and vision developed an area there for residences. It’s close to the river. when the Corps of Engineers announced that these discharge levels would be coming down the river they went about protecting their homes by building a levee with private funds. This is a community coming together to protect their homes. And the Corps of Engineers protects about half the homes in that area but it is not stable enough for them to build the levee to protect all the homes. You have two levees, one private money, good homes protecting themselves, another one, Corps of Engineers money to protect the balance of those homes. If we lose the levee near the river about half the homes in the Dakota Dunes and probably a massive amount of water and as I was up there to visit, they were building a temporary levee and Mr. Speaker, I spent my life in the construction business, specifically the earth moving business. We have had a fair number of our own machines running at a single time but this operation in the Dakota Dunes had 170 trucks hauling dirt into these temporary levees, about 50 trucks hauling in to the Corps of Engineers levee, about 120 hauling in to the private money levee that was there, most of them belly dumps and side dumps, not straight truck bus big trucks with a full load of dirt on each one of them, building the levee as the river comes up.
They’ve done that in South Dakota, they’ve done it in the Iowa side and Nebraska side of the Missouri River where we built several miles of levees around critical companies and infrastructure. CF Industries, which is a fertilizer industry, built a levee about 8/10’s of a mile long and they put pumps to dewater the inside of the levee as the river runs around the outside.
That’s true with the other company there, they have been protecting the power plants, Nebraska has its story, Omaha has its story, they’re protected by a pretty good Corps of Engineers levee but the water is high is the levees are not built for two months of high water and fast flow turbulence so they have to be monitored 24/7 all the way through until the water goes down.
If there’s a problem, they have to have somebody there to fix this that or we can lose a levee in a matter of a minute or two. I know there was a levee that ended up, that almost spontaneously had a 30-foot boil in it where the earth just disappeared. Then a little bit later, it was 200 feet long, then 300 feet long, then it couldn’t be repaired any longer and the backup levee is protect protecting the city of Hamburg right now.
There has been a courageous effort on the part of Midwesterners to build the temporary facilities they could, in the short notice they had, when you think that the Thursday before Memorial weekend is when the word came from the Corps of Engineers that these historically high flows would be released and it takes a couple of days for the water to get down, they weren’t going to peak out on this until June 14, but they had two weeks to be ready for the highest water and they had to get ready while the water was coming up, sometimes a foot a day.
They’ve done a phenomenal job.
As I go into the emergency command centers in places like Sioux City and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Glencoe Iowa, 270 people there in the flat bottom of the Missouri River who had been told they’d see two or three feet of water everywhere in their town and there wasn’t a way to save the town they said do, we let all our property flood and stay under water for a couple of months? Five contractors came together, put 11 machines on the job and a few days later, they had five miles of levee that goes around the city and ties it back in together and they have pumps sitting there and they’re protecting themselves from the flood. They don’t need to be the Alamo to the flood of 2011. They can fight this flood off and we want to be there to help them all we can.
I have a business owner that builds trailers in Missouri Valley, Iowa. He had gone in and bought a business in downtown Missouri Valley a few years ago and because of the floods from the 1990’s, built a new location above the floodplain on the outside of town by the interstate, interstate 29, which is closed today because of the flood waters covering the interstate highway. Mr. Speaker, he built a new plant above the floodplain so he didn’t have to be flooded out again. And about three years ago, there was a quirk of weather and one of the major streams backed up and flooded his new plant. He’s one of the top trailer sales people in America. Flooded his new plant with about four or five feet of water and destroyed some of his property that was in there. He picked his chin back up, went to work, cleaned up the mess, fixed the trailers he could fix and junked the rest and put a smile back on his face, and said, that’s life, isn’t it? And went to work in a courageous American way, Now his plant that is built above the flood stage and was flooded two or three years ago is back under — I can’t confirm today that it’s under water but they predict it will be four feet of water, he’s moved back to the old plant, He moved from the nonflood zone to the flood zone because they predict that one won’t be under water. His new plant that is out of the flood stage is going to be under water. The irony of this is not lost on him nor on me.
Sometimes whatever you do it’s going to end up to be wrong. This time, we have a lot of people suffering that maybe have done everything they can do to protect themselves. We have farmsteads, Mr. Speaker, that are completely flooded and we have hundreds of them that are under water. the up and down on the west side of interstate 29 and the southwest corner of Iowa, We’ve evacuated some 600 homes because they’re all going under water. The town of Percival and two other small towns are now being announced they will be under water and flooded and I hesitate to report exactly where that water is now.
I’m going tonight and by the weekend I will have looked at that all again, Mr. Speaker, but the water we have is unprecedented. It’s strange in its nature in that floodwaters we see as silty, muddy water full of mud and silt and junk. Some of this is. Maybe 40% of this water is silt-laden water. But more than half of it, perhaps 60%, Mr. Speaker, is clear water.
When you fly over it and you look down, you can see through that water and you can see the striping on Interstate 29. You can see corn stalks, corn stem, little sprouted plants that grew up about this far before the water flooded them and they’re standing there underneath a foot and a half or two feet of clear water. It goes on and on.
You’ll see irrigation systems standing out in the water in eight felt of water an irrigation system standing there. But this clear water that has emerged comes because the pressure from the river, the hydrostatic pressure of the river pushes down on the entire aquifer around there and as it pushes down, the weight of the water, the silt and floodwater pushes down into the soil and water equalizes and comes up out of the ground, sometimes on the other side of the levee, on the east side of the interstate in my case, where clear water, the kind of water you’d find in drain edge tile or well, sits on the surface everywhere. Clear and clean as can be, shutting down transportation units, interstate highway, and flooding family farms and businesses all up and down this river and most of it has yet to reach St. Louis.
This is a problem for all the way across Missouri from St. Louis all the way up into St. Joe and north, it’s a problem for the entire Missouri River bottom, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.
To put it in perspective also, Mr. Speaker, the flow coming down this river, when people think that the Corps of Engineers could have done something different, marginally they could have, but they would have had to have been clairvoyant and violate the terms of the master manual. But the flow coming down the river happens to be the amount of water that’s just coming out of the Yellowstone River to itself. So those people that want to turn these American rivers back to what they were before we managed them and controlled them and built the program, I’d ask you all to think if 150,000 cubic feet per second is flowing out of the Yellowstone River, and it is, and 150,000 cubic feet per second is flowing past out of Gavins Point and down through Sioux City, if we had no dams in the Missouri River if all the tributaries of the Missouri River were completely dry except the Yellowstone River, that tributary up there in Montana, we’d still have the same amount of water there right now. It wouldn’t last as long but it would be as high as the levels we have today.
That’s how much this helps us. We know those tributaries are flowing a lot of water. There’s a massive amount, more than ever before, 54 million acre-feet for this career and it was a 500 year event in 1993’s that 550 year event today.
I have called upon the president to declare this entire area a national disaster area. I know the governor has made that request. I know the governors in some states such as Nebraska and Montana have made the request. I believe that that request has been granted in a couple of cases. Not yet for Iowa. I know that Governor Branstad has made this request for Iowa. I thank the entire Iowa delegation for joining with me in a letter to President Obama in making the request that he declare this a national disaster. we have a long time to working with this water a lot of sandbags have been filled, more will be filled, many have to be emptied when this water goes down. The quality we’re going to need the most is the prayers of the American people and perseverance.
And so, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your attention to this matter. I appreciate the Iowa delegation for standing with me and the delegations up and down the river who have stood together. We need to stand with the people whose property is under water and help them get through this. They are stoic people, they’re determined people. They’re not going to be standing there complaining, they’re going to be doing all they can to help themselves and to honor their effort, I and others are determined to do all we can to help them.
So that is the update on the 2011 flood, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate your attention and I yield back the balance of my time.