Federal Judge: Endangered Species Policies Responsible for Flooding, Farmers Owed Compensation

Published May 15, 2018

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled policies enacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corp) to protect endangered species caused recurrent flooding of farms along the Missouri river and thus the government owes the farmers compensation for taking their property.

Judge Nancy B. Firestone with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims found in favor of the plaintiffs the Corps deprioritized flood control after 2004 to protect endangered and threatened species with the result that in six years farms were flooded costing farmers millions of dollars.

In Firestone’s opinion she wrote, the evidence established that changes to the river made by the Corps “had the effect of raising the Missouri River’s water surface elevations in periods of high flows,” resulting in some of the worst the flooding of property along the river its history. Firestone also determined present Corp policies will also likely contribute to “recurrent flooding in the Missouri River Basin … will continue into the future.”

Unconstitutional Takings Proven

The case, Ideker Farms et al. vs. United States of America, was brought in 2014 by 372 plaintiffs including of farmers, landowners, and business owners who suffered damage on their farms and property in four Midwest states, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, along the Missouri River.

The plaintiffs alleged the Corps’ actions violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment barring the government from taking private property without just compensation.

In particular the plaintiffs argued, in 2004 the Corps began to take actions to restore the ecosystem along the Missouri river to create habitat for and benefit threatened and endangered species, with said actions causing or contributing to flooding. The court agreed finding the notching of dikes and revetments, as well as the reopening of the historic chutes to allow the river to meander and erode the bank, coupled with increased reservoir storage and releases above and below dams along the river to help various endangered and threatened species contributed to flooding in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and since then.

The court’s ruling was the right one says lead plaintiff, Roger Ideker of Ideker Farms in St. Joseph, Mo in a statement released after the verdict was rendered.

“As a farmer and landowner who has experienced substantial losses from these floods, I’m extremely pleased with this outcome,” said Ideker. “It rightfully recognizes the government’s responsibility for changing the river and subjecting us to more flooding than ever before.”

Compensation And Policy Change

In the same statement R. Dan Boulware, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, says the ruling makes clear the government should be accountable for enacting federal policies that made the river more likely to flood.

“Today is the day the plaintiffs have patiently waited for and have fought for during the past four years,” Boulware’s statement said. “[W]e are very pleased with the court’s conclusions regarding the Corps’ changes to the river causing flooding, and we are certainly pleased with an outcome that will provide substantial compensation to plaintiffs living along the river who have suffered significant flood damage and losses throughout the past decade.

“It should now be clear that we have a changed river – one that is flood prone,” said Boulware. “We hope the Corps of Engineers will now do the right thing for our clients and that Congress will also act soon to restore flood control to a higher priority as it was during the last century.”

Having found the Corps liable for damages from the flooding its policies were responsible for, the trial now moves on to a second stage where Firestone must decide how much in actual damages the plaintiffs suffered and the amount of compensation the government owes them. The plaintiffs’ allege they have suffered more than $300 million in damages due to the Corps’ actions.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.