Long before I was born, when my grandparents and great-grandparents and their peers were making the decisions for the town we’ve called home for generations, the decision was made to straighten the Thompson Fork of the Grand River. It was the Eisenhower era and there was nothing the Army Corps of Engineers could not achieve. The river had a habit of jumping the banks and flooding the bottom land – which is probably why the river bottom west of Cainsville is the richest, blackest, most fertile land for miles around.
The Army Corps was happy to oblige and the river was moved a mile to the west and straightened and channelled, and it stopped its yearly ritual of jumping its west bank every spring. All was well and good for several decades, then the midwest got hit by a series of floods, the water flow increased and the river started washing away its east bank, trying to go back to the channel it had carved for its damned self over eons, puny humans and the Army Corps be damned. Fields that used to be forty acre parcels that went to the row of trees that was planted to prevent erosion of the new riverbank are now between fifteen and twenty acres and the trees are laying in the river, the bank simply washed away around them.
It is bad enough that the fertile river bottom is falling into the water and heading toward the Gulf of Mexico, but it can always get worse. A few years ago the town shut down their municipal water treatment plant and the folks in town joined their cousins in the countryside and switched over to the rural water system that finally went in about twenty or so years ago. That’s the nickle version.
Here’s what really happened. Cainsville got in on the last great infrastructure boom and took their share of the federal money available for water projects. They drilled wells, built a water treatment plant and started providing city water nearly forty years ago. In short order, Reagan came in saying government was the problem and set about fulfilling his own prophecy of governmental folly.
Thirty years of that sort of attitude led to a water treatment facility that had been maintained, but not upgraded and now desperately needed to be. So the city went to the state Department of Natural Resources and asked for help updating their water infrastructure.
“We have a better idea,” said the DNR. “Now, we know it sounds wacky, but hear us out…instead of rehabbing all these little municipal water district all over the state, at a cost of $46-49 million, let’s move everyone in these little towns into the rural water system!”
The persistent rumor that simply won’t die is that the ultimate goal was to build a water grid from St. Joseph across northwest and north-central Missouri, pumping water from the Missouri River all the way to Unionville and beyond, at a cost that would exceed $500 million…and a private German company would construct and operate it.
Mike Parkhurst, Cainsville’s mayor, protested this nonsense and pointed out the obvious security implications of a centralized water grid at a meeting of local officials from around the area that was held at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, but he was shouted down by people with dollar signs in their eyes.
Well, the water grid hasn’t happened, but Cainsville is now on the Harrison County Rural Water system instead of their own municipal water system, because the DNR accepted the most ridiculous civil engineering idea ever conceived of by the man the mayor calls “the most incompetent engineer in north Missouri.”
Instead of upgrading the water plant, this genius had the bright idea that the pumping station should be two miles west of town, at the junction of rural routes N and DD. And it should be underground. In a flood plain.
But it gets even stupider…between town and the pumping station is the river. “No Problem!” says the engineer who made the engineer who designed 1980’s updates to the levy system in New Orleans look competent. “We’ll go under it! I always wanted to try that!”
The DNR, by now having long-since convinced the people of Cainsville that no one working there in a decision-making capacity should even get out of bed in the morning without putting on a helmet first, engaged in back-slapping all around and said “Splendid idea! Someone can really make some money on that!”
So the pumping station was buried two miles away, underground and in a flood plain, and the water main that would supply Cainsville with the essence of life was buried parallel to the two-lane blacktop that runs through town, and when they got to the river, they bored under it, going down an additional twelve feet for a span of about 500 feet.
This year, when the rains came, they came with a vengence. The area has had about sixty inches of rain since March, and the river bank started to disintegrate. A good fifty feet has eroded this year alone and taken a stand of mature maple trees that bordered the riverbank with it.
Finally, they got a break from the rain, and the river started to go down. As the waters receded, the folks in Cainsville got a nasty surprise. The water main is now exposed and vulnerable. All those trees need to be pulled out of the river, and can’t be because that would certainly damage the pipe and cut off the water supply for four hundred people and leave fifteen hundred people without fire protection. On the Fourth of July weekend. In a state that, if not for weak laws covering fireworks, wouldn’t have any. At least it isn’t drought conditions.
Now, the Mayor and other elected officials in the town have been on the phone since the pipe was first spotted early in the week, trying to get someone at the Department of Natural Resources to act and their state representative’s office to get some help dealing with the recalcitrant DNR. The pipe needs to be moved back underground and they are having a hell of a time getting anyone to even acknowledge they have a problem. When the fact that a problem exists is acknowledged, they are asked to justify the expense.
Someone at the DNR actually asked my cousin, who is on the town board, if the pipe broke, how many people would be affected? She gave them the look they deserved along with the numbers then editorialized like you would expect a relative of mine to…”but if it was just one it would be too damned many.”
And the mayor, not one to suffer fools gladly, is threatening to take the old water plant out of mothballs and put the town back on city water. When he makes the threat the state threatens back, saying if he does that, he will be fined. To which he says “you can’t get blood out of a turnip.”
Then he gets serious, and you know why the people elected him mayor when he adds “and they had better send in the army, and they better come loaded for bear. I will not see my community without water because of the ignorance of bureaucrats at DNR.”