Farmers race against time, as Missouri approaches
June 13th, 2011
Omaha, NE -The Missouri River has risen above 30 feet in northeast Nebraska. And itâ€™s expected to rise to 34 feet this week, as the dams along the river continue to release more and more water at an increasingly rapid pace.
The flooding is impacting people all along the riverâ€™s bank â€“ many are farmers whoâ€™ve lived on the land for generations. Today weâ€™ll meet one family evacuating their farm and racing against time, as they watch everything they own slowly sink beneath the river.
â€œIf you can see down there, we have 35 acres down there, that I would say are probably seven, eight foot deep now,” said Sandy Smith, as she surveyed her familyâ€™s farm land, which lies along Highway 75 near Fort Calhoun in northeast Nebraska. “This is just such high ground, I just absolutely cannot believe itâ€™s coming up here.â€
A gravel road that bends along the edge of the property is sinking under water, as the rising Missouri River creeps closer and closer to her home. â€œEvery day we come back here, itâ€™s worse.â€
Smith said her grandfather bought the land in the 1950s, and itâ€™s been run by her father for the last few decades. Today, her father is in his eighties.
â€œThis is a several hundred thousand dollar loss for us,” she said. “Itâ€™s just very sad. Weâ€™ve all been so stressed out. My dadâ€™s 81 years old, heâ€™s absolutely exhausted. My momâ€™s been in the hospital and told to be on bed rest. Itâ€™s just been exhausting.â€
Smith said her parents have bought a new home in town. It has a tiny yard, she said, and she has no idea where sheâ€™s going to fit all the furniture and farming equipment the family has gathered over generations.
â€œAt this point, weâ€™re just grabbing what we can and getting it out of here. We donâ€™t know when theyâ€™ll close the highway, or when theyâ€™ll shut our electricity off. So weâ€™re just working on borrowed time at this point.â€
Like many of her neighbors along the river, Smith said her family does not have flood insurance. Asked why not, Smith said, itâ€™s expensive, and the protection isnâ€™t a guarantee. â€œActually itâ€™s something we never thought we would need. Or we would have had it,â€ she laughed.
Tucked between the Omaha Public Power Districtâ€™s Nuclear Power Plant, her neighbors to the north, and the Fort Calhoun Quarry to the south, Smith says she once believed her land was safe.
â€œWe thought being next to OPPD and Cargill, the Corps of Engineers would never release an amount of water that would actually put them at risk.â€
In fact, mention the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along the riverbank, Smith said, and you wonâ€™t find any sympathizers. Smith blames the Corps for releasing the water from the dams upstream too late, and said farmers werenâ€™t notified as early as they couldâ€™ve been.
â€œI donâ€™t think they notify in time. And I think itâ€™s poorly managed. So do a lot of other people, and there will be suits filed against them.â€ (See Army Corps response below)
But the lawsuit will have to wait, Smith said. For now, sheâ€™s just trying to save what she can, in the time she has left. Smith said the Corps estimates her familyâ€™s property will be under two feet of water in the next few days. But, she said, itâ€™s almost impossible to predict just how far the river will spread.
â€œWe donâ€™t how deep weâ€™ll be under water. Weâ€™re estimating anywhere from two to four feet of standing water, which will ruin three generations of work.â€
â€œIn my parentâ€™s golden years, this is how it ends,” she said. “Itâ€™s just overwhelming.â€
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded to Smithâ€™s story in a late Friday interview with KVNO News. Tom Oâ€™Hara, with the Missouri River Joint Information Center, said the Army Corps has been proactive about protecting human life and property from flood damage since the end of last year. The Army Corps is dealing with an â€œunprecedentedâ€ amount of water, he said, and â€œnot one dropâ€ from the river has been used for anything other than flood protection.
In response to the question of a potential lawsuit against the Army Corps, Oâ€™Hara said thatâ€™s not the focus right now, and any answer to that will have to be determined down the road.
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