Federal officials tour Missouri River flooding

As federal and state agriculture officials toured flood damage from the Missouri River, it became evident that recovery can’t start until flood waters recede.

Nearly two weeks after a dangerous mix of heavy rain, melting snow and frozen ground caused levees to topple and cities and farms to flood, the area continues to see large volumes of water push into the Missouri River basin.

Federal officials toured Hamburg and other communities in Fremont County Thursday to survey damage from Missouri River flood waters.

Federal officials toured Hamburg and other communities in Fremont County Thursday to survey damage from Missouri River flood waters.

“This flood is still happening," Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa Soybean Association district director and Fremont County farmer said. "We have receded some water but we still have huge amounts of inflow of water into this area. It’s a long ways from being done. This could go on for a few more weeks.”

Jorgensen and other Fremont County farmers welcomed U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and other officials to Hamburg on Thursday to tour damage caused by the Missouri River flooding.

"One of the challenges is that right now we see water," Northey said while looking at a flooded area of Hamburg while heavy rain fell. "You don’t know how much of a mess is underneath all of that water. Once that water recedes, there will be an awful lot of expense before they can get back to farming."

The Missouri River flooding was triggered by a combination of a "bomb cyclone" storm that impacted the Midwest the week of March 11, a rapid melting snowpack and already saturated ground. Now two weeks later, record amounts of water continue to flow into the area through levee breaches caused by flash flooding.

Mike Stenzel shared his story with government officials and news reporters yesterday. A third-generation farmer, Stenzel farms 2,500 acres of land along the Missouri River with his son Michael along with another 1,200 acres east of Hamburg.

"There is $905,000 worth of grain sitting down there underwater right now,” Mike Stenzel said. “The beans were sold. So now we have to come up with the money to pay them off to make the contract good. What we had in the bins was going to allow us to farm for another year. That is going to take a big hit.”

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey about damage his farm sustained from Missouri River flooding.

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey about damage his farm sustained from Missouri River flooding.

The Stenzels are among 31 growers in Fremont County with grain in storage, over 390,000 bushels of soybeans along with 1.25 million bushels of corn have been potentially destroyed, with total crop losses estimated at $7.3 million. That number could increase as flood waters retreat.

"In 2011, we lost 23 grain bins, two houses, three machine sheds and a shop," Mike Stenzel said. "We didn’t get a cent for any of it. We’ve had floods here before but nothing like this one. It is detrimental to our financial situation and whether we will be farming another year.”

Mike Stenzel said they have some flood insurance but doesn't believe his grain will be covered.

Jorgenson is worried about damage to the 750 acres of land he farms in the Missouri River valley but considers himself fortunate compared to others. When the water recedes, he expects to deal with large amounts of debris, sand and deep ruts caused by erosion. He was able to move grain from storage bins before floodwaters inundated his fields.

"For some of these farmers, 100 percent of their grain was stored," Jorgenson said. "It was 100 percent of their production. When that turns completely to zero, farmers understand the impact. That’s where it is at right now. That’s the message I want to get out. That’s the impact of this flood.”

Northey told the farmers that he would take two messages back to his boss, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. First, farmers will need help to recover, and, second, changes are needed in how the Missouri River is managed to prevent future flooding.

"Each of these (floods) take a big bite out of their economics in a time that is pretty tough," he said. "You hurt for them. You have folks that have been here for generations."

President Donald Trump granted Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration on March 23. The declaration makes assistance available to homeowners, renters, businesses, public entities, and select nonprofit organizations in 56 counties that have been severely impacted by recent flooding along the Missouri River and other parts of the state.

The declaration by the President makes available the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Individual Assistance Program for five counties, which provides aid to eligible homeowners, renters, and businesses. Residents in Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, and Woodbury counties are eligible to apply for this program, regardless of income.

Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621- 3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time), seven days a week, until further notice.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship urges farmers to work with their insurance providers and take inventory of any damage. The department’s website, iowaagriculture.gov/news/resources-flooding, provides a list of resources for those impacted.

"We recognize that we’ve got a long road ahead of us," Naig said. "The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will continue working closely with the governor’s office, other state agencies, the USDA, and our state’s elected officials to coordinate relief efforts. In the meantime, we know that Iowans will do what we do best — band together to help our neighbors in need."

Missouri River flood recovery

By Joseph L. Murphy

Today driving through the I-29 corridor near Iowa towns like Hamburg and Percival you would never know the area had experienced a widespread flood. Crops are green, businesses are open, and people are getting back to their normal lives. That was not the case one year ago when the over swollen Missouri River breached levees in Fremont County sending water on a destructive course killing crops, destroying roads and ruining homes from Sioux City to Hamburg.

Leo Ettleman and Jeff Jorgenson stand on a recently rebuilt levee near the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the levees back to the original flood protection giving residents the security to rebuild their farms and homes. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Leo Ettleman and Jeff Jorgenson stand on a recently rebuilt levee near the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the levees back to the original flood protection giving residents the security to rebuild their farms and homes. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

People in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri, had to deal with the prolonged flooding and damage. Farmers like Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa Soybean Association Director, and Leo Ettleman, an Iowa Soybean Association member, witnessed significant losses and damage to their cropland, homes and roads. Some areas dealt with floodwaters from June to November of last year.

“Overall we are very pleased with the progress.” Ettleman said looking at one of his soybean fields. “The goal was to get our security back, through flood risk reduction, to where we could get on with our lives, get our homes back, get the roads back and get commerce back.”

To accomplish that, they needed help from the federal government to rebuild levees that were breached during the flood. Ettleman along with other farmers in the area formed the group Responsible River Management (RRM) That group has been credited with creating a unified voice for agricultural interests in the area while making flood control needs known to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Some of the projects in the past have been detrimental to agriculture and to flood risk,” Ettleman said. “Now they are (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) starting to see, by us being at the table, that those things need to change.”

The main focus of the group following the flood last year was to regain flood control at the original 100-year protection levels. Due to a lack of funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally planned to repair the levees at 25-year flood levels. By doing that crop insurance would be jeopardized for many farms in the area. After a flood of calls from farmers and others involved with RRM, the federal government recognized the importance of rebuilding the levees to the original strength.

“Now, I think they see that when flood control fails everything fails,” Ettleman said about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Fish and wildlife projects were shot, recreation was shot, and everything fails when flood control fails.”

In late December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received the funding that they needed to restore the levees to the original strength. That, combined with a mild winter, allowed the construction projects to go full speed ahead. By the beginning of March, the levees repairs were completed.

“The protection that they are helping to provide (RRM) for Fremont County is tremendous,” Jorgenson said. “Otherwise you feel like you are getting stepped on. The RRM understands policy better than most of the people at the state house when it comes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior.”

Once the protection of their farms and fields were secure both Jorgenson and Ettleman said they were able to focus on recovering from the floodwaters and preparing their fields for spring planting. “The outlook in October was very meager because we didn’t know if we could get back in and start farming again,” Jorgenson said. “For the most part we were able to plant like normal this spring. The weather bailed us out. Otherwise, it would have been a whole different situation.”

The mild winter weather allowed farmers in the area to fill holes and move sand off of many fields in the area. Jorgensen said that he moved 4,000 yards of sand a day for twelve days to get just one 80 acre section cleaned up. Today the crop stands look healthy in the impacted fields, and both Ettleman and Jorgenson are optimistic for average yielding beans. Although they are concerned that continued dry weather could impact the crops quickly because of the sandy soil. “We’ve got good stands, and we’ve had some timely rains,” Ettleman said. “ We’re very pleased with the progress.”

Neither farmer would have expected to be in this good of a situation after the destruction they experienced last year. Now they have optimism that newly constructed levees can offer the protection needed for them to concentrate on their farms. Ettleman hopes that, in the next five years, his farm and life will be back to normal.

“There’s about two years of progress done now, and it happened in the last six months,” Jorgensen said. “But now it will slow down because we will be fine tuning the soil to get the production back to where we want it. That will take time.” For more information on Responsible River Management you can follow this link: http://responsiblerivermanagement.com/