To The Eagle:
I have been trying to follow the current wrangle over the responsibility for dealing with the Steamboat Slough dike failure. It seems to me that the problem has a fairly straightforward solution. It starts with insisting that both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps of Engineers be forbidden from using bureaucratic wiggle words to avoid their responsibilities, that they be forced to deal in facts, and that they recognize, as my Granny used to say, “Can’t never did nothing.”
Over a number of years, the Corps of Engineers has been carrying out various dredging operations to widen, deepen, and improve the main channel of the river. This is being done to make upriver ports more accessible to ocean going ships. Clearly this activity has resulted in substantial increases in commercial activity on the river. In their eagerness to improve the bottom line for upriver ports, the Corps has ignored a substantial set of costs and damages that are caused as a result of changed erosion patterns associated with their dredging operations.
I expect the Corps to reject this argument saying that it is not their fault that the river has eroded the dike, that is what rivers do, and the Corps could not do anything about it. This is the same type of argument the logging industry used to deny that logging practices were silting up riverbeds. It doesn’t (excuse the pun) wash.
It is true that river currents cause erosion. When we change river flows, we do not always know the exact direction, timing, extent, or severity of the erosion that will occur. We do know that some erosion will occur, and we have the ability to estimate with some reasonable accuracy its location, severity, and timing. As such, we should be able to estimate the actions necessary and the cost to prevent or mitigate damages caused by projects that change river flows. These costs should be included in any cost/benefit analysis associated with the projects, and funds should be budgeted to stop or mitigate damages. Failure to plan and act on the basis of these estimates can be more costly than the cost to stop or mitigate damages and may in some cases be judged an unlawful taking.
In the final analysis, what we need is more transparency in planning projects for the river, and adherence to the almost universal rule, “You broke it; you fix it.”