Miami officials at odds with Senator over dam releases as flood cause

GRDA license up for renewal with FERC

The license for the GRDA, the Grand River Dam Authority is up for renewal for the first time in decades with FERC. That’s the Federal Energy Regulatory commission.

Miami city officials were told this is their chance to change how the waters of grand lake are controlled to prevent flooding. It’s battle now made more complicated by their own state senator.

Jack Dalrymple commented on flooding as we drove across his property. He said, “It’s supposed to drain to the river right. The river’s not supposed to come to you.” But on his property water flows off the Neosho river and cover what was once a county road. He’s lost cattle and the ability to farm.

He explained, “180 acres that we never did get planted, usually in soybeans or corn. We had backwater on our property so many times this summer, we couldn’t get a crop in. So, it’s basically all gone to weed. Never got in cause it was covered in backwater.”

In May, the floodwaters were halfway up the trees in the pecan grove on Dalrymple’s property. He used a boat to survey the damage, and he said it’s backwater nothing else despite GRDA denials.

Dalrymple said, “And GRDA says there’s no backwater effect. But all the studies have been made since 1940 to present date say there is a backwater effect and it effects 12 thousand acres that GRDA should own.”

The city manager Dean Kruithof agreed and said, “GRDA knowingly built the lake without the proper easement with the idea that it would be cheaper to pay for flood damage than to buy the easements.”
Kruithof, who has previously served as city manager in Branson, said other lakes managed by the Corps of Engineers don’t have this problem. He said at Tablerock Lake, “No matter how high the lake goes, they won’t flood anybody’s property because they own all the property around the lake.”

The easements are properties Miami officials believe GRDA should buy. And want to make that case during the GRDA’S relicensing with FERC. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses GRDA because the lake was created with the Pensacola hydroelectric dam.

A FERC rule curve shows that the lake is supposed to be no higher than 744 feet above sea level.

Dalrymple tracked it online and said, “They’re always out. They’re always above 745.”

The city and local tribes are ready to make the argument at GRDA’s re-licensing with FERC.
But U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has a house on Grand lake, sponsored an amendment (section 6021 in congressional record) package in a defense bill (s.1790) relieving GRDA of any easement obligations and gives the power to regulate dam releases to the Corps of Engineers.

Inhofe said in a statement: “My amendment to codify the corp’s responsibility for flood control at Grand lake is just good policy–plus it’s something my constituents have been requesting for years.”

The city manager said May flooding could have been prevented by better control of Pensacola dam releases. Kruithof said, “The lake was at 4 feet below the highest level that lake can go at 755. It was at 751, five days before the rain. We had the predicted rain in Kansas. It was gonna run down the Neosho (river) and into the lake and instead of lowering the lake level, the Corp of Engineers policy is to leave the lake alone. So, when the water started flowing in, there was nowhere for it to go other than flood Miami.”

The city manager said flooding is more frequent and water’s linger longer now like those that sat on NEO’s ball fields in May floods.

Dr. Mark Rasor explained, “Eight or nine days of water standing, no current or anything. So, all the sludge and silt settled on the field.” It will be tilled, sod added and the infields replaced too at a cost of nearly $400 thousand.

Keeping the lake high is a popular idea for those in lake recreation and it means the hydroelectric dam is at full power generation.

Dalrymple quipped, “If they can store that on my property and I don’t charge them anything for storage, guess what? They make money and if they hurt me, they don’t care.”

Dalrymple said he disappointed by Inhofe’s amendment. “We don’t count. We just simply don’t count for anything. We don’t hold a lot of votes. We don’t give a lot of political donations. The only thing we get to do is be punished.”

The mayor of Miami wrote Sen. Inhofe objecting to the amendment and asking that Inhofe remove it.

UPDATE: GRDA Official Statement

GRDA strongly supports Senator Inhofe’s amendment as a common sense approach for real solutions. Not only does it provide needed clarity regarding the flood control responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the regulatory role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) at the Pensacola Project but it also clearly establishes a framework for these agencies to carry out their designated responsibilities without overlapping jurisdiction.

Importantly, the amendment does not affect FERC’s ability to conduct a thorough public process in GRDA’s current efforts to relicense the Pensacola Project. We remain committed to the ongoing process and efforts to ensure that the project would be operated in the public interest throughout a new license term.

– GRDA President/CEO Dan Sullivan

For a related article in the New York Times click here.

Read the mayor’s letter below, or read it here.

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