The U.S. government may be forced to pay millions to landowners along the Missouri River after the U.S. Appeals Court recently ruled in favor of farmers who have lost crops due to worsened flooding.
The atypical river flooding began occurring in 2007, three years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers changed how it managed the river’s flow.
To provide habitat for endangered species, the Corps notched dikes in Missouri, thereby increasing the water flow and water levels in reservoirs. They also opened chutes, which allowed the river to erode banks.
The mass action lawsuit was originally filed on Mar. 5, 2014 and alleged that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ actions have violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment that bars the Government from taking private property without just compensation. Judge Nancy B. Firestone with the United States Court of Federal Claims found in favor of the plaintiffs in five of the six years that the flooding was claimed dating back to 2007, disallowing the flood claims in 2011. The Court found that the Corps’ deprioritized flood control in 2004.
The suit was initially filed to recover land as well as crops that were damaged. While a 2020 ruling did not grant farmers payments for damaged crops, the American Farm Bureau Federation got involved, helping to file a brief on behalf of the farmers. Now, farmers will also be compensated for crops, farm equipment, and buildings lost to the flooding — that is if everything goes through.
The appeals court affirmed that the government had violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition of taking private property without just compensation. The Fifth Amendment is most often seen evoked in cases of eminent domain, where the government seizes private property for public purposes with compensation.
The government now faces liability for flooding in six of the eight years between 2007 and 2014, including specifically devastating flooding and losses in 2011.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, damages in just 2011 were estimated at around $2 billion.
The Seattle Times reported that Seth Wright, Posinelli Law Firm attorney and lead trial for landowners said, “So, if you consider how much those crop losses and the 2011 flood damage would be, you can extrapolate from there that it will be significant.”
While the plaintiffs think it’s possible that the government will likely appeal the latest ruling. Over 370 landowners in five states are included in the lawsuit.