'Heart-wrenching' feeling as flooding destroys homes, land and a way of life
Farmer Bob Byrne looks out on the flooding that damaged his land -- and $40,000 worth of wheat crop.
May 5th, 2011
10:46 AM ET

'Heart-wrenching' feeling as flooding destroys homes, land and a way of life

In Mississippi County, Missouri, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet, water hasn't been this high since 1937.

It was that flood that prompted the Flood Control Act of 1937 and the construction of an interstate system of levees. Parts of those levees were designed to open up a flood way in extreme flooding situations. That opening would relieve pressure on the system during major flood events and actually lower flood stages.

With the Mississippi and Ohio rivers surpassing the record levels of 1937 this spring in Southeast Missouri, the Army Corps of Engineers has used explosives to do just that. The intentional opening of the levee is meant to save some river towns like Cairo, Illinois, but has inundated fertile farmland in the flood plain of Mississippi County, Missouri, with flood water.

Bob Byrne owns 550 acres of land inside the flood plain that has been in his family for more than 100 years.

"I was standing on top of the levee back here when it went and it's just kind of heart-wrenching, just a sinking feeling," Byrne said.

"We've seen the Ohio River rampage, water right up to the top of the levee. We've seen this one (Mississippi) on the rampage, but never the two together," he said.

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He plants wheat, corn and soy beans on the property. Byrne said his year is over unless the water gets off his land quickly.

"If we can get a soy bean crop planted by middle of June, first of July, we'll make crop," he said.

He already planted wheat and prepared the land for corn.

"So far, we've probably lost $40,000 on our wheat crop," Byrne said.

Norbert Rolwing, 93, farmed land in the flood plain during the record-setting flood in 1937.

"This is one of the things that happens once in a great while and you just have to take it on the chin," Rowling said.

"There's no winners here," Michael Reuter of the Nature Conservancy said.

"Our heart goes out to those people, but the challenge that we're forced to make here is how to balance the management of these rivers for people and nature, and there's communities up and down stream that had to be factored into this decision, as well," Reuter said.

Still, that doesn't make Byrne feel any better about his property.

"If the water doesn't get off and the land doesn't dry up, I'm going to have to do something else," he said.

A group of Missouri farmers have filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for the decision to blow the levee. Though the Army Corps has flowage easements attached to the farmer's property, the class action suit reportedly is asking for compensation for taking their land.

"Way back in the Depression days when anybody would do anything to get a penny, that's when they got all of the easements on this kind of stuff," Byrne said.

Though he is not part of the legal action, Byrne said he will be studying the class action suit and will most likely join.

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Filed under: Missouri • Weather
soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. Tree Hugger

    Much of these huge watersheds have changed in the last 50 years with the development and growth of the citys. Cities and towns upstream are dumping runoff into these water at an alarming volume. More impervious areas (street, homes, ect..) creates a flush effect in our creeks and rivers thus more flooding.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Iowa Farm Boy

      Not to mention all the drainage systems that have been put into the farmland. Bog land where I grew up used to have small lakes every Spring, but not anymore, that same land drains dry in a few hours after the rain stops.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    Well dude, it's a flood plain! And the floods of the past brought the silt that made the farms fertile in the first place. So maybe after this you'll get better crops. Rebuild your house on stilts like other flood plane residents. Sorry for the inconvenience, but this is unavoidable.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • hwiiseman

      Chris–you're obviouslly not a farmer. Have compassion. These people feed us.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      The Mississippi River Valley is so rich and fertile precisely because of these floods and the silt, sediments, and nutrients they bring. Basically nature is saying, "I'll trade you one growing season and give you many more years of fertile growth". Sure, I have compassion for the farmers, this is a boon for them in the long run. Even though many short sighted folks don't understand that nature works best undisturbed and with long term benefit, not "put the quarter in and get a prize". The Mississippi and Ohio rivers created America's bread basket, let them do their work.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Its not his house that's swamped but the fields. No crop means his annual income is shot. Not only will he not be able to feed himself, but will not be able to feed others either. One a large scale this increases the cost of wheat, corn, and other lost crops. Its the waters don't recede, his best bet is to plant rice.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cynic

    Byrne could open a white-water rafting center for the summer.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • fierybuddha

      except there's no rapids. duh. try again.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. andywx

    Climate change smimut change...largest widlfire season in TX in recorded history, largest tornado outbreak in recorded history, and the largest flood event in the Ohio Valley in recorded history...and all in the same year...hmm.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Seriously? "largest tornado outbreak in recorded history, and the largest flood event in the Ohio Valley in recorded history"

      I guess 1938 was before recorded history. Keep ignoring the facts or changing data to suit your agenda.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Quoted from above article (guess this guy was before "recorded history"

      Norbert Rolwing, 93, farmed land in the flood plain during the record-setting flood in 1937.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • paulwisc

      Mike, it was record-setting at the time - 1937. No recorded floods of that magnitude came before it, but obviously once could come after it, and did.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • paulwisc

      Typo - 'one', not 'once'.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Andy the earth has cycles and always has. It just happens it's all at the same time. I'm sure in the billions of years the earth has been around this has happen before. Don't listen to half truths. I almost forgot Andy your a jack@$$

      May 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MattinKY

    Two more words: Crop Insurance. Big time farmers have it. I'll guarantee Farmer Bob does. He's probably glad he doesn't have to work for money this year.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fierybuddha

    rice paddies!

    May 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • CT

      You're probably joking, but SE Missouri actually does have a ton of rice paddies. Rice from SE Missouri is actually one of the main ingredients in Budweiser and Bud Light (yes ... it's a rice beer). The irrigation channels used to grow all the rice cost millions of dollars. Hopefully the flood didn't take them all out, or people may have to start paying import prices to drink their Bud light.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. susan

    They could share water with the southwest... I am sure there would be a way to do it.. it might take government money but it could be a system of pipelines and levies...

    May 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • paulwisc

      Why would they want to build all that for a rare event?

      May 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mihoda

    It's called the "Mississippi Flood Plain" and there's a surprise?

    May 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. farmer

    It's a flood plain, you take the benefits and the risks equally. Lots of farmers have crops destroyed by many different events every single year, this is no different. It's all risk management. Plus you have your insurance.
    If you're joining a class action suit over this you're trying to get federal money you don't deserve.

    May 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • farmer

      And just a follow-up: it's pretty funny how farmers almost universally vote Republican and buy into every single bullet point, but when they perceive a harm then I guess the welfare (ag style) and the class-action suits and high-priced lawyers and massive federal payouts are perfectly OK. Most of all, farmers should know you reap what you sow.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • GMCMAN

      I agree with the "known" threats. Most of the farm subsidies don't go to individual farmers. They go to corporations. Many of the subsidies go to people that don't even farm. (Blance Lincoln for example). I suggest researching this stuff, it's really astounding who gets the money.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhea

      I'm wondering how many lesser floods they've been protected from in previous years by those federally-provided levees. They weren't charged for that, as far as I know, but now somebody has to pay them for this.

      May 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mecatfish

    Did you hear about the farmer who was outstanding in his field?

    May 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. brianm0122

    End of a way of life? Where did that come from? This land gets flooded almost every year. Farnmers are the biggest whiners I ever heard. Always pleading poverty, but they always have a brand-new truck. His crop is mortgaged before he plants it, and insured with government subsidies, and I will bet he gets crop subsidies too. And price supports.

    The Mississippi has been flooding for thousands of years, and he is just hearing about it now?

    May 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • LOLYouAreFunny

      REALLY?? This 130,000 acres of land gets flooded by a mini-tsunami that leaves 8 – 10 feet of water every year?? Please start talking out your mouth, it looks funny coming out the other end...

      May 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      You're an idiot

      May 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      No, it doesn't get flooded every year. Apparently you know nothing...

      May 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. osama been hidin

    once haarp is used to induce a catastrophic earthquake on the new madrid fault it wont matter, because all of the missisippi valley will be an extension of the gulf of mexico anyway.. so look out during the course of 2011.. wouldnt want to be blind to this event

    May 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q Watcher

      Notice the news doesn't talk about HAARP or the National Level "Exercise" that's happening right now in that area to "simulate" a major quake. All the distractions to keep the sheep busy. Man-made disasters are rampant!

      May 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      Help me out here... I just recently started hearing about haarp. I've looked it up, but wow it's got more to it than I can understand. Is it implied that those running it could set off a disaster if they wanted? Please no bad comments... I'm just trying to get educated. Thanks.

      May 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sally

    Why does the media, CNN, included, insist on making this about Cairo, IL. Get your facts from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. It is not about any particular town, but about relieving the pressure on the whole system, all the tributaries that feed the Ohio and Mississippi. Have you not noticed that Kentucky and Tennessee are also being flooded?

    May 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q Watcher

      Flooding in 11 states and the river is running backwards in some areas. Normal huh? But is blowing levees doing good or harm?

      May 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. g3

    There are hundreds of people at the Corps that worry about this. The better solution would be to just pay for and take the land, kick the farmers off.
    They complain about Federal intervention. The Corps could just stop maintaining the levees along the flood way and let them revert back to nature.

    May 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sally

    Cairo, IL is simply the gauge that is used because it sits where the Ohio and Mississippi merge. It's not about saving Cairo. The criteria for opening the levee uses the water level of the Ohio River at Cairo for decision making purposes.

    May 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
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