The Missouri River is prone to flooding. That was the case in the days of Joseph Robidoux, the founder of St. Joseph, and it's still the case today. But for a time it may have been easier to prevent, and there’s a reason for that.
Roger Idecker’s farm is five miles west of Craig, Missouri in Holt County. Once again, his farm is underwater due to flooding. It's flooded every year since 2007.
Ideker Farms Inc., et al. v. United States of America included farmers and business owners from five states along the river.
“My father pioneered that farm, and he did that because he thought the river was going to be tamed,” Idecker said.
His father's purchase was made in 1952, which was before the six dams in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota finished construction.
That year also marked the river's change in course around Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Instead of flowing on the west side of the airport, it now flows on the east side.
Taming the river was done in two parts: the main stem system's six northern dams, and by channelizing the river with the bank stabilization and navigation project (BSNP).
The BSNP used wing dikes to push the river towards the middle, creating a faster flow. This made it difficult for sediment to easily build up.
The result of which has caused suspicion that perhaps larger floods could become the norm.
"We just had a historic record in 2011, and now we get another one?" Ideker said.
Dan Boulware of the Polsinelli PC law firm successfully argued his plaintiffs — 372 private landowners — weren't justly compensated when their land was taken by flooding between 2007 and 2010. His case proved the Corps didn't maintain the BSNP, which allowed the river to spread out and flow slower.
“Under the old system they were always proactive to prevent flooding,” Boulware said. “Under the new system, they are reactive for flood control.”
Boulware explained flooding occurs three ways; overbanking, blocked drainage in farmers irrigation pipes to the river and seepage from a high water table that saturates the ground. All three can destroy crops.
The neglect of the wing dikes destabilized river banks on the river's 700-mile journey from the Gavin's Point Dam in South Dakota to St. Louis.
Boulware compared the build-up of sediment in the river to that of a clogged sink bowl.
"The ditch is full of hair," Boulware said. "The big changes took place in 2004, when they started building the pallid sturgeon shoots."
The fish is only part of the change in priority to fish and wildlife. Up in the northern states are sandbars where two birds; the piping plover and the least tern make their nests. If those sandbars build up with brush predators are able to eat their eggs, which is why they are flooded in March and April before the eggs are laid.
The News-Press reached out to the Corp to discuss the case, but their policy doesn't allow them to comment on ongoing litigation.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge Nancy Firestone ruled the Corps management of the river caused the 2011 flooding. That decision is estimated to be worth $300 million.
"We are now proceeding to phase two which will be on damages," Boulware said. "(It) should be tried later this or early this year."