Environment Places

Ameren and the shame that is Taum Sauk

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

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.

Environment Photography

More on Taum Sauk, Johnson, and Black River

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Thanks to Lee Farber, who runs the Peola Valley Pottery in Lesterville (the town threatened with flooding after the Tauk Sauk Reservoir wall failed), I have links to additional resources on the flood and its impact.

political cartoon noting that AmerenUE operates more than reservoirs.

I hope to get permission to actually take photos of the Shut-Ins themselves. In the meantime, before and after photos of the area.

The issue was raised that what has fallen into the Black River is just dirt, and dirt can actually help a surrounding area. The concept of rich alluvial land in the floodplains of a river like the Mississippi is based on naturally occurring flooding. The reservoir break was anything but natural.

The Black River, one of the most pristine in the state and country, and environmentally vulnerable, was actually diverted the length of two football fields at one point by the force of the water from the dam breaking. We don’t yet know the impact of the dirt in the water, either on tourism (necessary for the area); or on wildlife dependent on the river.