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Emerging Plans for Flood Recovery Across the Midwest

Wind Turbines May Help Crops On Farm Lands, Research Says

Comments to Flood Recovery Advisory Work Group

Submitted by Mollie Freebairn

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March 9 & May 13, 2020

Missouri Governor Parson convened the Flood Recovery Advisory Work Group (FRAWG) to find a course of action to circumvent the recurring flooding disasters for farmers and towns along the watersheds of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. In keeping with these goals, the FRAWG has worked diligently and chronicled the formidable challenges of repairing levees including those still under water, that have been repeatedly breached over the years. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is holding the last public meeting online at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2020, before the final report is issued. However, a larger picture is emerging of the connection of flooding to national, food, and water security, and the importance of job creation, planning, and maintaining the balance of earth’s meteorological and other life support systems. Long story.. short:


Where's the beef?

The big picture of flood recovery across the Midwest is reported through the Agribusiness lens each week on the US Farm Report. Much of the recovery is dependent on the Chinese, impacted by the trade war, and Covid-19, on top of the flooding in the Midwest. Corn prices are down due to the drop in crude oil and ethanol, which represents an almost linear correlation with the decline in unleaded gasoline demand. The irony is that falling commodity prices are going to hit farmers and ranchers hard, even as prices surge further downstream. This is being caused by critical bottlenecks in the supply chain.

Percent Change in U.S. Commodity Future Prices, 1/14/20 - 3/24/20

U.S. Farm Report 4/11/20

Border closures, movement restrictions, and disruptions in the shipping and aviation industries have made it harder to continue food production and transport goods internationally -- placing countries with few alternative food sources at high risk. Airlines have grounded thousands of planes and ports have closed -- stranding containers of food, medicine, and other products on tarmacs and holding areas, says the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

"Supermarket shelves remain stocked for now," the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says, "but a protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more."

As Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB) farmers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have brought to light, in the years to come the difficulties will swing between intensified flooding and the opposite extreme, with record breaking heat waves and droughts, afflicting farms, forests, and cities alike.

USACE Chart: Flooding & Drought Years

Missouri River Basin Water Management – FRAWG Meeting

While the polar vortex is bringing unseasonably cold spring temperatures to the eastern United States, parts of the southwest are poised to shatter April heat records. Las Vegas is expected to reach into the hundreds for the first time ever before May 1. Highs in Phoenix could reach 106 degrees, also a record. In Russia, new wildfires have erupted in central Siberia, with temperatures soaring by as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says 2020 is on track to become the hottest year on record, topping 2016.

US Drought Could Last A Century

The United States has experienced four megadroughts lasting decades to centuries. Now, it increasingly appears that we have already begun another megadrought. A recent study published in Science reports that the drought conditions experienced in the western US since 2000 are the start of a megadrought equal to the worst the US has experienced in 1,200+ years.

The savage fires incinerating the western states, Alaska, Siberia, Australia, could happen here, in Missouri’s majestic Mark Twain National Forests, if it gets dry enough. This underscores the need for decisive steps to cut carbon emissions by 55% in the next ten years, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (See IPCC Report reference below).

According to the US Farm Report at the start of the 2020 planting season, millions of acres of farmland were still under water from the 2019 floods, as were the cash flows of the farmers with last year's crops still in the fields. Many have had to refinance their losses from last year, as well as their supplies for planting this year, with all the unknowns about future conditions, prices, etc. See also the interview with Public Citizen President on May 4, 2020 Democracy Now, covering the CAFO Meat Packing rise in Covid-19 cases among workers in Missouri.

It would help to have a 10-year plan to give farmers certainty about where the markets are going to be in the coming year and on into the next ten and beyond. Among the highly compatible and far-reaching plans that have been proposed, are the 50-Year Plan by Wendell Berry, Reviving Rural America by Bernie Sanders, and diverse essential plan components in Drawdown by Paul Hawken.

Most of the numerous news reports about the decline of bees and other pollinators focus on only one side of the story: the drop in honeybee numbers because of colony collapse disorder and its impact on food crops. Yet, as important as that issue is to human food security, it only impacts one pollinator species, the European honeybee, a non-native species that is managed by commercial beekeepers.

The decline of native pollinators, of which there are thousands of species in North America, that affect thousands of additional species of plants and animals, is largely ignored.

Sustainability – with virtually the entire Midwest, the breadbasket of the United States, dedicated to the production of livestock and grain for livestock – raises the question of where do all the other countless food products come from? The huge irrigation requirement by fresh produce coming from the western states are stretching agricultural irrigation reserves to the limit, draining water tables tha are running out of water.

Hoover Dam with Record Low Water Levels - Getty

In the United States, just 27 percent of crop calories are consumed directly — such as wheat, or fruits and vegetables grown in California. By contrast, more than 67 percent of crops — particularly all the soy grown in the Midwest — goes to animal feed. A portion of the rest goes to ethanol and other biofuels.

The Future of Food

This is not a sustainable model for America’s food OR drinking water security. Nor is it reassuring to hear Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue say small family farmers should either get big or get out, while Wisconsin’s largest dairy farm is declaring bankruptcy. See US Farm Report March 7-8, 2020.

One rising sector that reflects the growing awareness and concern for the health benefits and nutritional value of the food we feed our families is the ORGANIC FOOD SECTOR. Organic farmers are pioneering the methods of restoring the soil and a wide range of approaches to regenerative agriculture and silvopasture. These age old and new practices excel at capturing rain and organic carbon, enriching the soil and absorbing the moisture for weathering future droughts.

Soil, conservation, and forest carbon sequestration employ the most powerful CO2 removal technologies, powered by the sun, which delivers more energy to earth every hour than humanity uses in a year. Soil carbon sequestration has the potential to absorb 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. As we transition to 100 percent renewables, soil carbon sequestration will drawdown the levels of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere.

From – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report – Global Warming of 1.5°C:

World Leaders 'Have Moral Obligation To Act' - IPCC Special Report

"Cumulative CO2 emissions are kept within a budget by reducing global annual CO2 emissions to net zero:

This assessment suggests a remaining budget of about 420 GtCO2 for a two-thirds chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, and of about 580 GtCO2 for an even chance (medium confidence).

The remaining carbon budget is defined here as cumulative CO2 emissions from the start of 2018 until the time of net zero global emissions for global warming defined as a change in global near-surface air temperatures.

Remaining budgets applicable to 2100 would be approximately 100 GtCO2 lower than this to account for permafrost thawing and potential methane release from wetlands in the future, and more thereafter. ...

Staying within a remaining carbon budget of 580 GtCO2 implies that CO2 emissions reach carbon neutrality in about 30 years, reduced to 20 years for a 420 GtCO2 remaining carbon budget (high confidence).

- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

This is illustrated in a group of maps found in the same chapter, which show regional warming (in 2006-15) as an annual average and for the winter and summer seasons. The red and purple shading highlights that much of the high latitudes in the northern hemisphere have already exceeded the 1.5C of warming.

Maps of regional human-caused warming for 2006-15, relative to 1850-1900, annual average (top), the average of December, January and February (bottom left) and for June, July and August (bottom right). Shading indicates warming (red and purple) and cooling (blue). Credit: IPCC (pdf)

The Case for An Urgent National Mobilization

Green Buildings Do More To Fix Our Climate Emergency

The global population declaring a Climate Emergency continues to grow, now reaching 829,280,700 people in 28 countries. Welcome to San Diego, California, which declared Climate Emergency on March 10 by full council vote. Canada has recently surpassed 500 declarations across the nation, with recent declarations from Shippagan, New Brunswick, and Clarington, Ontario.

St. Louis Commits To 100 Percent Renewables By 2035

Fish & Wildlife Are Part of the Solution

Wetlands support more than half of Missouri’s total plant species, more than a quarter of the state’s nesting and migratory birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles and amphibians, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, mushrooms, and 200 plant and animal species considered rare or endangered in Missouri.

Bird, Wildlife, Insect Populations Plummet Amid Urbanization and Deforestation – World Wildlife Fund

Natural wetlands change continually, creating a high degree of biological productivity and diversity. Their soils develop in saturated conditions, and as water levels change, they act as sponges – providing a buffer from spring storms and summer droughts – and filters, to purify our waters.

A lifeline for our state’s natural history, and biodiversity, wetlands contribute to our clean water, rich soil, and healthy wildlife communities.

Why We Should Preserve Our Wetlands

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), Sierra Club, Great Rivers Habitat Alliance (GRHA), American Rivers, Missouri River Bird Observatory and many others attended every FRAWG meeting, offering public comments supporting non-structural and nature-based solutions to deal with the flooding. In which they note that:

Levees and other flood control structures promote floodplain development in high flood risk areas, putting more people are at risk due to floodplain development than before the levee was built. As river levels rise, levees and floodwalls create bottlenecks, pushing water onto adjacent lands, increasing the flood impacts for others in the floodplain. When the levees inevitably fail, historic towns along the river are rendered uninhabitable. Farmers’ crops, livestock, investments, and livelihoods fail. Levees and other “flood control” structures are necessary to protect existing critical infrastructure and investments that cannot be relocated. However, these practices should not be expanded in future development.

Options To Better Protect People and Property

Wetlands are a natural transition zone between land and aquatic environment, and they protect the quality of both. A rich variety of plants and animals live in wetlands. Missouri policy should shift away from using levees and other flood control structures as the default management approach. Focus on reducing flood risk by discouraging development that is not flood compatible - moving people and buildings out of the floodplain, and redevelop floodplain areas in a way that lets the river flood safely and predictably.

Floodplains are an important component of the river ecosystem. Floodplains convey flood water, process nutrients and other pollutants out of the river water, provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and recharge subsurface aquifers. When floodplains are disconnected from the river by levees, or developed as parking lots, they cannot provide these essential functions that benefit people and wildlife.

To better protect people and property, Missouri policy should encourage floodplain restoration and protect naturally functioning floodplains. In addition to improving the environment for fish and wildlife, supporting natural floodplain functions will protect people from flood hazards, improve drinking water, and support recreation. They go on to provide present:

Science To Guide Floodplain Protection & Restoration

in the Mississippi River Basin

The Nature Conservancy - The Power Of Wetlands

The sooner we direct our efforts in these directions, the better our chances of leaving future generations a livable world!

Read More:

Missouri River Water Quality Concerns in:

Massive Storms, Floods & Tornados Sweep Across Midwestern, Southern, & Eastern States

Water Quality Concerns Update in:

Climate Disasters Strike Home & Around The World ---->

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