OTTUMWA — With Wapello County facing the most severe flooding in years, it was no surprise that Sen. Chuck Grassley faced questions about flood control during his visit Thursday morning.
The Des Moines River crested lower on Wednesday than forecast, but the river levels have still forced many from their homes on Rabbit Run Road and Rock Bluff Road. Bernard Stodghill said he did not believe federal officials were getting accurate information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the Saylorville Lake and Lake Red Rock reservoirs.
Stodghill said Red Rock was releasing more water than its own regulations allowed for, earlier in the year than it said would happen. He blamed that for some of the problems farmers faced with getting this year’s crop planted.
“They’re telling you something, and then … they’re doing whatever they want,” he said.
Grassley replied that he has concerns about the way rivers are handled. “We’re finding a lot of things with the Corps of Engineers, most of it on the Mississippi River.”
The corps says controlling flooding is the number one priority, Grassley said, “But the only time they tell us it’s the number one concern is when it’s flooding.”
Recent studies have shown some levees on the Mississippi River are not what records say they are. A 2018 report by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative organization, showed data from the corps showed some districts had built their levees higher than authorized without getting permits. While the additional height in those districts would protect specific areas, it would create a higher flood risk at downstream sites.
Ted Payseur of Veenstra & Kimm, the company hired by the city to help with the sewer separation project, said he did not believe those in charge of flood mitigation have kept pace with changes in the climate and the increased risk of flooding those changes cause. Fifty-year-old approaches are outdated. He argued for better federal oversight.
“We need to come up with a different way,” he said. “We’re really not any better at it.”
Grassley said the United States is doing reasonably well in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change, but said one of the major issues is that what has worked here has not been duplicated elsewhere.
“We used to be behind Europe, but Europe has kind of plateaued now,” he said. “I think the plan is to keep doing what we’re doing because we’ve been successful.”
Grassley touched on a wide range of issues during Tuesday’s meeting, which filled the council chambers at City Hall. When asked about the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice during the last year of President Donald Trump’s current term, a step he helped block during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, he said there are differences in the situation. But, he also noted, he is no longer the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley also paid tribute to former Sen. Thad Cochran, who died Thursday. Cochran represented Mississippi in the Senate from 1978 to 2018.
“He was a very devoted and hard-working member of the Senate with a primary impact on agricultural legislation,” said Grassley. “He was also a person who didn’t have any enemies because he was so well liked. We miss him in the Senate.”