The Leaf-Chronicle: Editorial: Flood hearing helpful

Posted on July 26, 2010

On the heels of last week's Senate hearing on the way in which the Army Corps of Engineers handled the May flooding in Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander said more such hearings may be coming. 

That's a good idea. This hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development produced apologies from the Corps and the National Weather Service on the way that flood warnings were handled and promises that a better warning system would be established.

Alexander said that, among other things, he would like more specific information on how an early flood warning system could be put into place that would be on par in sophistication with the tornado warning system.

At this first hearing, a representative from the National Weather Servic said it already was collaborating with federal agencies to find ways to better forecast flooding and create visual models of how a rising river could impact nearby neighborhoods.

Looking back at the spring flooding from which Nashville, Clarksville and other Tennessee communities continue to recover, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, testified that he believed the Corps didn't properly notify the public it would release large amounts of water from the Old Hickory Dam during the flooding.

Although the Corps acknowledges that it didn't respond quickly enough to the weather that first weekend in May, it rejects Cooper's allegation that the agency made the situation far worse by that water release from the dam and by not lowering the reservoir's levels prior to the heavy downpours so that it could be used to collect excess water.

Cooper, of course, is not an expert in the matter but skepticism in taking at face value what the Corps says also is understandable.

Further study, including more hearings, must determine what might have been done differently to lessen the flood's impact and what should be done in the future to ensure — as Gaylord CEO and Chairman Colin Reed said in a statement — "loss of life and devastation to our economy never happen again on the scale it did on May 2 and 3."