Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster reported April 26 that his office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources have filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to stop the U.S. Corps of Engineers' plans to detonate the levee at Birds Point in Mississippi County.
Koster said the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which manages the Mississippi River, is preparing to intentionally breach the levee in hopes of keeping Cairo, Ill., from flooding. Demolition of the levee, however, will cause serious flooding across large portions of the Missouri Bootheel's Mississippi County.
Koster said the Corps of Engineers maintains that a law enacted in the 1920s requires them to blow up the levee if the gauge at Cairo reaches a certain water level. Koster believes the law is unclear as to whether the Corps of Engineers actually has the authority to make the decision to detonate the levee.
Flooding from the detonation could cover some 130,000 to 140,000 acres – 30 miles north to south, and as much as 8 to 10 miles wide at certain points. Koster explained the flooding would leave a layer of silt on the farmland that could take as much as a generation to clear, causing significant injury to the quality of the farmland for many years. In addition, there are approximately 100 homes in the flood area.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon also released a statement on Tuesday, saying, "intentionally breaching this levy would be a harmful and inappropriate action."
Both Nixon and Koster acknowledge that there are zero "good" options at this juncture. "Nonetheless, given the long-term effects of the federal government's proposal to blow the levee on so many Missouri citizens, we are demanding a review by the federal court before the detonation is allowed to go forward," Koster said.
Missouri agricultural organizations are closely monitoring the flood threat along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri. Missouri Farm Bureau and other ag leaders have been contacting Corps of Engineers staff and elected officials this week in an attempt to find options that do not result in intentionally flooding thousands of acres of prime farmland and disrupting the lives of thousands of Missourians.
"We oppose the intentional breaking of this levee," said Blake Hurst, MFB president from Westboro. "If intentional flooding does occur, farmers will need compensation for loss of income and the damage done to their land.
"Floods of this size are thankfully rare, and our prayers go out to everyone suffering as a result of this natural disaster," Hurst added. "We should do everything we can to avoid making this natural disaster worse by breaching levees designed to protect lives and property."