Washed Away: The Missouri Destroys Valley Infrastructure

As river levels drop, photographs are appearing on the web of the damage inflicted by the Missouri’s floodwaters on the Missouri Valley’s infrastructure and agricultural land.  What the photos make apparent is that the costs of this year’s flood will be prohibitive.  In a photo posted by Omaha-area media outlets, a stretch of Interstate 680 is shown north of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The roadway has been shattered into pieces by the Missouri’s powerful currents.  Flat slabs of concrete lie haphazardly atop the deconstructed highway.  Logs and an odd assortment of flotsam sits on, or in between, the concrete blocks.  Automobiles will not travel I-680 for a long time.  The Iowa Department of Transportation estimates that it might not be reopened to traffic for two years.  What is even more troubling is the news that 52 miles of Interstate 29 remains under the Missouri.  What the river is doing to I-29 is anyone’s guess.  But if the still submerged sections of I-29 sustain as much damage as the now visible segments of I-680, western Iowa will face traffic detours for years to come.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently told a group of Missouri Valley residents that there must be no loss of agricultural land in any future Missouri River management scheme.  The lands inundated this year must be restored to crop production.  Nixon’s remarks cater to the Farm Bureau and his rural GOP constituency.  But his suggestion to restore eroded land makes no economic sense whatsoever, especially if the American taxpayer has to pay the cost of restoration.  Government dollars would be better spent buying out riverfront property owners and acquiring the eroded land.  Then, the next time the Missouri floods, (which will happen), the river can enter those now worthless acres without inflicting costly damages on the U.S. economy.  However, if Jay Nixon gets his way, and farmers are allowed to farm right up to the edge of the river, it will only be a matter of time before the Missouri plows through their cropland and carts it off to the Gulf of Mexico.  The American public can no longer afford to subsidize crop production in flood-prone segments of the Missouri Valley so that farmers can earn a few more dollars.

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