2019 Legislative Priorities: finding a framework for river maintenance

Counties near the Kankakee and Yellow rivers experienced severe flooding in February 2018. Six weeks after levees breached, there was still land under water. The scope of the problem prompted the Indiana Farm Bureau board of directors to make restoring the Kankakee and Yellow rivers a 2019 legislative priority.

As the flood waters subsided, INFB staff worked to get legislators to visit the area so they could see the problems firsthand. Lieutenant Gov. Suzanne Crouch and state Rep. Jack Jordan met with INFB members during one of those trips. INFB members Mark Scarborough, LaPorte County Farm Bureau president, and Dan Gumz of Starke County shared their stories during a tour of the areas that experienced flooding.

Scarborough and Gumz showed the group levees that were breached, levees they helped rebuild, and damage to area roads and farms.

“We actually had a dry spring after the flooding in our area,” said Scarborough. “If we would have had a normal spring, I doubt we would have gotten some of the crops planted. If the crops had already been planted when the flood came, it would have been total devastation.”

Justin Schneider, INFB’s director of state government relations, has been working with the lieutenant governor, her staff and legislators to identify a fix for the river system. Possible solutions to address the flooding are being developed by a consulting firm that has contracted with the Kankakee River Basin Commission.

“It’s clear there are issues with these two rivers as well as questions about how to manage the volume of water they transport,” Schneider said. “The critical step will be establishing an appropriate mechanism to collect and administer funding for measures to address flooding.”

Schneider said that those funds would likely be a combination of federal, state and local dollars, with local dollars being a large portion of the contribution. He added that even though all members are not impacted by these particular rivers, figuring out a framework for how to fund flood control measures will be beneficial to members across the state in the long run.

“This issue is fresh on legislators’ minds,” Schneider said. “If we can build out a framework based on the Kankakee and Yellow rivers issue now, it may be applicable to flood areas in the future.”