Mar 29, 2021 4:30 PM

Missouri hopes to work with neighbors to improve Missouri River levees

Posted Mar 29, 2021 4:30 PM
2019 flooding in northwest Missouri/File photo by Brent Martin
2019 flooding in northwest Missouri/File photo by Brent Martin

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

Missouri state officials hope to convince the Army Corps of Engineers to make changes to the Missouri River levee system.

Deputy Director Dru Buntin of the Department of Natural Resources says Missouri is working with Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa state officials to propose changes to the levee system in an effort to avoid the problems which made the 2019 flood so devastating.

“It’s the states’ intention working together to take a regional approach to looking at where are the areas where targeted investment and focus about our approach to flood risk management is going to reap the most benefit,” Buntin tells St. Joseph Post.

Of particular interest is the Missouri River L-536 levee in Atchison and Holt Counties, which breached in five locations in 2019. The Atchison County Levee District has suggested moving the levee back to allow more room for floodwaters. The district also suggests upgrading the levee with a more modern design.

A study commissioned by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson focused on pinch points along the Missouri River, segments which restrict the flow of water creating a greater potential for flooding. The study suggested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could alter not just the levees, but where they are built, using setbacks and other moves to restore a more natural floodplain.

Buntin says the federal government has got to change how it approaches levee repair, ditching the requirement that levees be restored only to their pre-flood condition.

“If you’re only looking at the least cost alternative to build exactly back and not considering if you might be able to invest a little more on the front end that’s going to save a lot of money and damage and impacts to people’s property and, potentially, lives at risk,” Buntin says.

Corps of Engineers officials say federal rules restrict them to restoring levees to pre-flood conditions. It might take action by Congress to authorize some of the changes advocated by the four states.

Still, federal officials are listening, according to Buntin.

“I think in some of the areas, we’re going to be getting together and having some local discussions as well about what can we do and how can the state be of support in that effort as we were able to do in the Atchison County project,” Buntin says.

Buntin says the four states believe they have a better chance for success if they unite behind proposed changes.

Buntin says a broader floodplain not only would help avoid the widespread, devasting flooding seen in 2019, but would improve water quality by retaining nutrients and sediment as well as provide better habitat for fish and wildlife.