Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who's The Boss

For The Midwest Producer Magazine

The 800-pound gorilla in the room for those of us from the eastern parts of Kansas and Nebraska is the Missouri River. We've developed a love/hate relationship with the Ol' Muddy Mo. This year she's been running bank full almost all summer. That in itself is a major cause of problems for those who farm in any region drained by the big ditch. This year, the experts say the Sandhills of Nebraska are saturated and the soils there must release, as runoff, any excess rain they receive. And they, like us, have received a lot of it.
The basins that eventually drain to the Missouri are all, also, running bank full so it's a bottle neck that only time and a lack of rain is going to solve. The big river as I know her is like a spoiled rotten child. Say and do anything you want, but she'll stomp her feet and do as she pleases. There is no controlling her. But isn't that the case with all rivers no matter the size. They can seem so peaceful and sleepy and then in one dark and stormy night turn into an unrecognizable creature.
I suppose I'm a little more sensitive than some to the problems all of these large and small rivers can cause. As a county board member I witness it first hand here in our county, and I have spoken to many officials from across our state about the damage caused by rampaging water. The costs of trying to control water, or at least trying to keep it from bringing commerce to a halt, is overwhelming to most governmental bodies, even on a dry year.
Some of my first remembrances were of the rock trucks that were hauling rock to our portion of the Missouri River as part of the Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944. Part of that plan was to make the Missouri navigable from Sioux City, Iowa, south. They hauled limestone, truckload after truckload, day after day and month after month to teach the big river a lesson. As if to say these are now your boundaries, stay there. The meandering river eventually was turned into what some folks refer to as an oversized drainage ditch. The river water sped up and cut deeper as the Army Corp of Engineers carried out the plan. They've spent a lot of our tax money trying to mitigate the damage ever since. They continually try to lay claim to more and more property in an attempt to slow it back down and make fishing what it once was.
But the fact remains that years like these demonstrate to the Corp of Engineers and those of us farming along streams and rivers who really is in charge … and it's not us. The river has now reclaimed most of the land it lost back in the 1950s. At least it has for this growing season.
There's been a lot of water under the bridge since all 8 grades of the kids at District 19 were loaded in three cars and taken on a field trip down to the river to tour the big dredge christened the Meriwether Lewis. It was obviously named for the captain of the Corp of Discovery. It was an impressive display of power for all of us impressionable country school kids. But the most memorable fact for all of the little boys on the trip was the sex education thrown in by the captain. He had a picture of his girl friend taped to the back of the door of the bridge. I know he didn't think to take it down before all of us arrived and I'm just assuming it wasn't a picture of his mom.
I went down to the river tonight and sat in my pickup for a bit and watched as the river ran south with all of its incredible power. Nothing is going to stop it. Nothing will control it. But it runs silently like all of the memories it welled up. The water was right up to the road my truck was sitting on, reminding me of the time my dad had to move all of our possessions out of harms way back in 1952.
Having a big river for a neighbor is like having a really strong parent. No one asks, "Who's the boss around here?" We all know.
You can leave a comment here or go to the magazines website and leave it there . My boss needs all the clicks he can get.


Janell said...

You're right about water doing whatever the heck it wants to. We visited the Dakotas last month and saw it first hand. ND is going to another Great Lake before long. And re: all the rain we've had this summer - are we going to get that much SNOW this year? Please say, "No."

Cliff said...

Janell, I hope not.
Hey, Marilyn was helped by your son Jack in NF in Blair tonight.

EV said...

Great writing Cliff. I've traveled the Mississippi Rivers length - these rivers ARE awesome and command a respectful silence as we contemplate them. Nice job.

Peter said...

Hi Cliff, as I've pointed out on my "Australiana" blog we don't have the same problems here that you do.
Most of our rivers run only short distances to the ocean, the one major exception is the Murray-Darling system, these two travel over 4000 Km and were a constant source of flood in the good old days, over-use of the water has for the last 20/30 years been so great that we now have huge rising salt problems instead of flooding... seem you just can't win.

Rachel said...

Good article Cliff. Water is powerful stuff and it definitely is the boss! I guess those of us who do not have it for a neighbor sometimes don't think about it. When I was a kid we lived several miles from the KY river and one year the backwater created so much flooding that it was shocking. The overflowing creek had nowhere to run to since the river was full and so it backed up and covered homes several miles from the river. It didn't touch our home but it cut us off from everything.

Lanny said...

Good read.

Jim said...

A friend and I worked on the sandbag crew in Omaha in the 1952 flood. We worked steadily for two days except for one eight hour stint on a cot in the YMCA.

Once when we worked the same site two shift in a row we were paid for one eight hour block by Peter Kewit. All the other times were volunteer.

When I came home (to Lincoln) after that I slept 28 hours steadily (no waking).

Cliff said...

Jim, I was two years old and staying at your Mom and Dads place. I'd been 'farmed out' during the flood.

Anonymous said...

Cliff I recently ready your article "Suspenders" in the Midwest Producer". I must say I am not a farmer but began reading your column after I read your farmcat bailout column which I thoroughly enjoyed. The only thing I don't understand is that you constantly talk about reducing government handouts and how bad the bailouts were and to some extent I agree. However as a non farmer it makes me madder than he!! that money is taken out of my paycheck to give to farmers. The nicest houses in the county with the newest pickups in the drive way belong to farmers. Why don't you ever talk about the fact they have a lot more money than I do yet they get a handout from uncle sam every year and that doesn't even take into account the subsides to ethanol plants that adds to a farmers paycheck either. I would like to hear you say something about doing away with farm subsides. I know as a small business owner who needs farmers business that I should keep quiet but it doensn't seem fair to me what do you think?

Lucy Stern said...

What's the old saying, "Don't mess with Mother Nature."

Cliff said...

Anonymous, I usually don't mess with anonymous but will say that mostly your idea would be fine.... So long as they close the entire program, food stamp program (which is part of the farm package) and all, including the Farm Service Agency, the NRD's and the Soil Conservation Service and everything else they use to control farmers and the price of food. That would certainly tilt the playing field in the farmers favor. I would appreciate it if no one new the amount of commodities on hand which is info gathered by the farm program.. That would give us the upper hand collectively. Control of the food supply is something this government has always wanted. Not something I like but if they want to relinquish control of everything I'd say bring it on, most farmers would much rather play that game. The subsidies have mostly been phased out compared to a few years back anyway because they've always been tied to the prices.
You'll need to sign your name next time. That's been the rules on this blog since time immemorial.