Rising River Puts Pressure On Levees, Farmers

Rising River Puts Pressure On Levees, Farmers

Corps reports partial levee breach at Missouri River levee in Atchison County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that a partial levee breach occurred Sunday morning on Missouri River levee L-575, near Hamburg, Iowa. Early assessments have determined that the second partial breach and the damaged areas are likely to fully breach as water levels continue to rise. 

As a temporary measure to reinforce the levee to delay a full breach, the Iowa National Guard is dropping thousands of pounds of large sandbags to help fill the breaches.

Missouri River levee L-575 in Atchison County, Mo., showed a partial breach on June 5, in which the levee collapsed on itself approximately 10 to 15 feet in width.

The levee, located at River Mile 552.5 in Atchison County in extreme northwest Missouri, is in the Federal Program (PL84-99) and is operated and maintained by the non-federal sponsor. The corps constructed it. USACE personnel along with the levee sponsor were onsite when the second partial breach occurred.

Missouri Master Farmer Richard Oswald, who farms near Langdon, is preparing for the worst. He grows corn and soybeans in the Missouri River bottom and loess hill uplands of western Atchison County. "We are dealing with seepy levees and evacuation from farms and homes in the river valley due to a record water release of up to 150,000 cubic feet per second--that's 67,500,000 gallons per minute -- in addition to tributaries and rainfall runoff," he says. "Levees can't hold that much. Early predictions were for nearly every Missouri River levee to be overtopped -- from Missouri Valley Iowa to St Louis -- in what will be a record-setting flood."

Kim Thomas, chief of the corps' Emergency Management Office in Omaha, Neb., reports the Missouri River levee L-575 has a partial breach in which the levee collapsed on itself approximately 10 to 15 feet in width. "All personnel on-site were moved off-site as a safety precaution. Additionally we strongly encourage everyone to avoid this potentially dangerous area," he says.

The corps is working closely with Iowa and Missouri Emergency Management Agencies, as well as the county emergency managers, the National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VII to ensure the safety of all in these areas.

"People's safety is our No. 1 concern, so we want to stress how important it is for the public to stay off of these levees as we continue to assess the risk," said Omaha District Commander Col. Bob Ruch. "We have contractors in place and are working expeditiously to raise Ditch 6 levee near Hamburg, Iowa, by an additional 5 feet to provide an alternative flood risk reduction measure for the community of Hamburg."

The levee breach follows weeks of high flows and increasing releases from the main stem dams in Montana and the Dakotas. During times of expected high water and flooding, the corps encourages levee sponsors to carefully monitor their levees and notify the corps immediately of any concerns.

Maintenance and quick repairs of levees on the Missouri River has been a long-standing challenge for those who farm in the river bottoms, and many believe the corps has not made it a priority. "The corps says flood control isn't fool proof," says Oswald, who serves as president of the Missouri Farmers Union. "But what we may really be seeing is a growing lack of influence from rural communities in halls of government where decisions are made. Since the flood control projects of the Missouri were built, the original intent of flood control with recreational side benefits has changed, with vacation homes and sport tourism becoming an important part of the economy in the states where dams are located. Those groups worked with environmentalists to get the river operation manual changed. Changes also worked to the detriment of transportation, another important side benefit of flood control because water from man made lakes had to be released to maintain a navigable channel. Those releases gave more runoff capacity to lakes for spring snowmelt.

"I grew up going to the river with my dad to fish and watch big towboats guiding barges up and down the river. Today we seldom see them," Oswald notes.

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