Johnson’s Shut-Ins 2008

Johnson's Shut-Ins 2008

I visited Johnson’s Shut-Ins last week, before it closed for the season on the 24th. I hadn’t visited since 2006, and was very pleased to see how much progress has been made. The water quality is much improved, and most of the small particulate debris is gone. The Shut-Ins aren’t completely healed— you don’t heal from such a devastating flood in a couple of years— but both the DNR and Ameren have made significant inroads in correcting the damage.

The fens look nicely restored, and I could barely recognize the flood path, the green growth has done much to help it blend into the mountainside.

It does look like some of the boulders will be left in the restored park, which I think is a good thing. They won’t impact on the area, but will serve as a reminder, as well as historical marking.

I thought about doing a before/after/after slideshow, but I think I’ll wait on this until after the park is officially open, hopefully next May.


Cheap gas

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

You can tell when the gas prices are lower: the stations are filled with big SUVs and trucks. And today we find out that Missouri has the lowest gas prices in the country. For now, that is.

I used some of the lower gas prices to fuel a trip to see Johnson’s Shut-Ins before it closed this year. I’ll have pictures in a later posting, but for now, it was good to see the park, and good to see how much it has improved.

I’ve been critical of both Ameren and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) in the past, but they both did a good job cleaning up the shut-in area, and restoring the Fens. I’m looking forward to the full opening of the park next year, when we’ll be able to walk around the entire park. I’m also looking forward to a fully restored Ozark Trail.

The park is still fragile, though, and use is severely restricted. Rightfully so—such devastation won’t be cured overnight. Food and drink are strictly forbidden, as are dogs. I was therefore irritated to see a couple of ladies carrying their food hamper and McD’s soft drink cups to the shut-ins, and even more at the couple letting their dog piddle on some of the newly growing rare and endangered fens. How quickly people forget how close we came to losing a natural treasure.

I want to save the world, but can we save it for just some of the people?

Climate Change Places

Katrina comparisons

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It is difficult to be sympathetic to people in Iowa and Missouri when you read some webloggers who gloat about how “well” their state did compared to how well the people did in New Orleans after Katrina. I think it’s time to take a closer look at events; to get some perspective on both events.

Early estimates put the number of damaged or lost homes in Iowa at about 8,000 to 10,000 homes, based on the number of displaced people. I estimate from the numbers I’ve heard in the last few weeks that Missouri will end up with about 500 to 1000 damaged or destroyed homes.

The number of homes destroyed by Katrina varies widely, but I’ve seen estimates from 275,000 to over 850,000 homes, many of them in New Orleans. In fact, 80% of the city was impacted, and only 45% of the New Orleans population has been able to return to New Orleans, years after the storm.

I couldn’t find numbers of people killed in the recent floods here in the midwest, but from an old estimate, we lost about 30 people. Over 1836 people died from Katrina, and the long term impact of the flood could result in thousands more dying.

Though we like to think floods along the Mississippi are sudden, this one was not. We had all the indications of a bad flood building up along the Mississippi beginning in April. The people impacted by New Orleans had three days, four tops, to prepare.

The people in Missouri and Iowa were not cut off and isolated. Most had neighbors and friends who helped. The people in New Orleans were shoved into a coliseum or left marooned on damaged bridges, as the surrounding communities would not let them leave the city. Why? Because rumors talked about roving bands of thugs shooting everything in sight; rumors proven to be untrue, but still persisting in places like Wikipedia—an article I nominate for being the worst edited, most inaccurate, and outdated article in Wikipedia. These people were left without water and food, in intense heat for days. No comfortable Red Cross shelters for them.

River floods like the recent flooding in the Midwest impact across class lines, especially after the federal buy outs resulting from the the 1993 flood. The flood in New Orleans impacted on some of the poorest people in this country. People who were then bused as far away as Salt Lake City, and cut adrift.

This recent flooding is terrible, and I don’t want to downplay the awfulness of the event, or the extent of the damage and the help that will be needed to rebuild in Iowa and Missouri. At the same time, it angers me to see those pontificating in how “better” we handled the flood than the folks handled Katrina in New Orleans and the rest of the south. Especially when the purpose for such comparisons is politically, and even racially, motivated.



DC Weblog

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Missouri folks: rest of you close your eyes

Missourinet posts a note that Lorna Domke from the Department of Conservation is starting a weblog. One of her first stories is on Pickle Springs. (Remember when I wrote on Pickle Springs? Back, when I used to have a life?)

Ms. Domke does need to find her own ‘voice’, but that will come in time. I’ve added her weblog to my reading and am looking forward to more. Well, maybe not more stories on hunting and fishing, but that goes with the conservation territory.

Environment Places

Ameren and the shame that is Taum Sauk

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A couple of days ago, the Southeast Missourian did a fluff piece on how important Ameren is to the Lesterville school system:

Earlene Fox, superintendent of the Lesterville School District, said many entities are trying to decide how much to fine Ameren, turning the issue into a political hot button.

Meanwhile the livelihood of Lesterville’s residents is in jeopardy as a result of the December 2005 breach at the Taum Sauk Reservoir that caused significant flooding in the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

This has been typical of Ameren, getting friendly folk in Reynolds County to trot out the Lesterville school system and jobs in order to put pressure on the political figures running for governor–Attorney General Nixon and Governor Blunt–to settle the Ameren/Taum Sauk situation quickly. What’s different is that both Nixon and Blunt are working together on the issue of a fine for Ameren, so why is the school system being dutifully trotted out this time?

Well, the answer came out today, in a story released by the AP and appearing in papers and other publications in the country (and outside the country). According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the gauges that were supposed to turn off the pumping station when the water was high and in danger of overtopping the dam were not faulty: they had been deliberately moved.

Yes, basically the safety measures to prevent the dam from breaking were deliberately circumvented by Ameren officials. Why? Money. More water meant more profitable electricity being generated.

Interviews with Ameren employees by The Associated Press over the past year have confirmed Ameren’s practice of filling the reservoir as high as possible because every foot of water represented profitable electricity generation. That sentiment was also made clear in the patrol’s report.

Taum Sauk Superintendent Richard Cooper told patrol investigators he felt pressure from his bosses after he ordered the water level to be slightly lowered to prevent an overflow in October 2005.

“Cooper stated that he had people above him and below him that wanted to know what was going on. Since the upper reservoir was set two feet lower, that was resulting in producing less mega watts (sic) of electricity,” the report said.

The amount of water that rushed down the mountain when the dam broke, a billion gallons, was five times of the amount of water of the Johnston Flood, the worst ‘natural’ disaster to impact this country. If the Taum Sauk dam break had happened in summer, hundreds of people would have died. If the lower reservoir had not held, whether the Lesterville school has a new roof or not would be moot.

All of this, so that the Ameren officials could pump in an additional two feet of water, and generate that much more electricity. Even when officials knew of the risk involved.

In addition to tampering with the safety equipment, the evidence was tampered with after the break, as the gauges were removed from the dam and left lying next to the wall before Ameren ‘allowed’ DNR agents in to examine them. Ameren also refused to provide requested evidence to the State Patrol.

No criminal charges are being filed because the State Patrol supposedly cannot find the person who moved the gauges originally, or removed them from the wall after. Of course not: Ameren isn’t cooperating, and wasn’t forced to cooperate.

Neither Nixon, in his position as Attorney General, nor Governor Blunt are pursuing any further investigation, though obviously criminal actions have taken place–and continue to take place, with Ameren refusing to provide materials demanded by the State Patrol. After the public relations campaign run by Ameren and supported by some community leaders in Reynolds County, to do so is to brand both as being ‘against schools’. With an upcoming election, neither the Republican candidate nor the Democratic has the courage to seek true justice.

I’m sure, though, that Ameren will provide a nice visitor center at Johnson’s. Maybe a new gym for the school, too. The company is such a good servant of the people.


The Public Service Commission, which recently granted Ameren’s request for a rate increase in Missouri, have re-opened their investigation of Ameren’s conduct based on the AP story.

Ameren has come out with its own press release, stating that the story did not have any new information from that of the FERC report a year earlier.

However, there is considerably new information: the FERC report focused primarily on the physical evidence and repercussions of decisions made. At no time was economic motivation discussed, nor was the fact that the gauges were removed after the dam break recorded — or at least not as far as I can see in the report.

Should there be more investigation? This state seems incapable of dealing with this situation and Ameren. I imagine the best anyone can hope for is to hit Ameren where it will hurt–the company’s pocketbook–and then keep the company on a short leash. A very short leash.