Trinity Levees: Will the Feds' Money Crunch Leave Us Low and Wet?

Am I in the happy-news business? Does a bear use air freshener in the woods? Look, I'm just bringing it to you like it is. As bad as the situation with the Trinity River levees may look locally, you should see what it looks like when you put it in perspective with national levee problems.

We're worse than screwed. We're glued and tattooed, because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is screwed, glued and tattooed.

We may not remember here, but last spring the corps planted explosives in the Birds Point levee on the Mississippi River and blew the shit out of it, sending a massive flood over 130,000 acres of farmland downriver in Missouri.

Why? Because otherwise there might no longer be a town called Cairo, Illinois, which would have been inundated if the corps didn't blow the levees to lower the Mississippi. And that was only one of last season's flood disasters in the North.

That season of disastrous flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and a stalled funding bill in the Congress have left the corps broke.

They're telling people on the Missouri River they only have money to fix 11 of 68 subpar levees, and many of those can only be brought to a safety level one-fourth what it was before.

So we figure people in that area just cross their fingers and pray for no rain? Yeah, unless they're farmers, in which case they also write very big checks for government crop insurance at rates five times what they were before the recent floods. A year's premium was $100,000 for one farmer quoted in a recent Businessweek story.

See, that's the thing. The corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency here are gearing up for some kind of come-to-Jesus moment when they and the city will tell us the Trinity levees can't be fixed back to the so-called 800-year flood protection level we thought they were providing before they failed inspection. In fact, the corps has raised doubts about whether the city's proposed repairs will even get back to the 100-year protection level that determines whether property owners in the floodplain must buy pricey flood insurance.

In my conversations with FEMA, they have always said they will provide flood insurance to areas in Dallas affected by the reduced protection levels of the Trinity levees, but the price of the premiums will reflect the risk level.

Reflected how? Think about the farmer in the Businessweek story, 55-year-old Ed Marshall of Charleston, Missouri, scratching out that big premium check for $100,000 to insure his crops. Then think about very valuable real estate all over the urban core of Dallas that is in precisely the same predicament.

And all this begs the question of whether the city will get any help from the broke feds to help pay for repairs.

And I ask again, what do you hear about all of this from your loyal public servants at City Hall? La la-la la. Let's rather talk about Toys for Tots.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze