Missouri River flood troubles far from over

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By Tim Sampson

Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.
– Although flooding along the Missouri River has faded from national headlines, it will still be months before water levels return to normal, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Water flow from the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota will continue to run high until at least next year, said Jud Kneuvean, emergency management coordinator for the Kansas City district of the Corps of Engineers. Engineers are still waiting for water to recede enough in some of the most heavily flooded parts of Missouri before they can begin work rebuilding levees.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to flooding, your top priority (rebuilding project) – the one you want to really get to first – a lot of times it’s not the first levee you’re able to get to,” Kneuvean said.

Although recovery work has already begun on some levees, many of the hardest hit areas, like Holt County and Union Township in northwest Missouri, remain inaccessible. Kneuvean said engineers have begun surveying these sights in the hopes that repair can begin next month as the water continues to recede.

Next week, the Corps of Engineers expects to crank down the outflow of water from Gavins Point to 40,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Engineers plan to maintain that flow for about two months before lowering it to 20,000 cfs in December, which will still be slightly above the regular winter outflow.

By comparison, during the height of the Missouri River flood event this summer, Gavins Point outflow had been as high as 160,000 cfs. Wide scale flooding up along the river began when the Corps of Engineers chose to open the floodgates at Gavins Point to manage excessive rain and snow melt.

But the high water levels aren’t the only thing preventing levee repair operations from moving forward. A strained federal budget is forcing the Corps of Engineers to put some projects ahead of others, with the possibility that some levees may not be repaired before the next spring rainy season.

“We’re in the process of racking and stacking (levees) nationally from the ones that need to be repaired immediately to which ones can be deferred slightly,” Kneuvean said. “We are competing for basically limited funding.”

So far, the Corps of Engineers has identified 55 levees that need some sort of restoration work, but full funding has only been secured for the eight highest priority projects. Kneuvean said additional funding for the expedited repair of other levees would have to come from Congress, where the fight over disaster funding for Missouri River flooding and a myriad of other natural disasters across the U.S. have nearly forced a partial government shut-down.

“We’re hopeful that we’re going to see additional dollars into the program to help with these (projects),” Kneuvean said. “Right now the funding we’re using is internal to the Corps. We haven’t received any external dollars from Congress.”