Federal, state and county officials were joined in Council Bluffs Tuesday evening by representatives of drainage districts in Pottawattamie, Harrison and Mills Counties to address recovery from Missouri River flooding that has plagued the northwest segment of Pottawattamie County and residents who live there since mid-March.
Doug Reed, director of the Pottawattamie County Emergency Management Agency, opened the meeting in the county’s emergency operations center at 205 S. Main St. by commenting, “With waters beginning a slow but trending recession, time has come that we need to address some significant levee repair issues in Pottawattamie County.”
Reed said there are approximately 12 areas of levee breach or significant damage north of Council Bluffs that continue to allow the Missouri River to take its toll on the county. The damaged levees are controlled by drainage districts and are not eligible for repair by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We need to develop a strategy to move forward in a unified manner,” he said. “Nearly the entire northeast portion of our county west of Interstate 29 is still under water, fed by the continuing high river levels that will take some time to recede to a mark suitable for final damage assessments and complete restoration.”
A representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commented that “For the foreseeable future, the next three to four weeks, releases from the Gavins Point Reservoir will be maintained at the current level of 70,000 cubic feet per second.”
“By prioritizing and funding some levee repairs in strategic areas now, we can start relieving a large area of the county from its flooded condition as well as doing what we can to protect our local and state-managed critical transportation infrastructure that is currently impacted or continually threatened in this flood-prone area,” Reed said.
Reed and others noted that some of the priority locations have been a problem since 2011 with the failure of the federal government to honor its obligations under a land purchase by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency at the DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge. There are two or three breaches there that have not been repaired.
While some of the discussion at the meeting focused on long term solutions — one calling for the creation of a unified drainage district that would design plans for levees from Sioux City south to the Missouri state line and control those levees, Reed said the immediate issue is getting rid of the water causing problems now before starting to address long term goals.
Reed said his goal is to set up a Levee Repair Task Force that as quickly as possible that will include a representative from each of the impacted drainage districts as well as individuals to provide legal advice and technical advice and funding recommendations.
“We all know we’re going to face Missouri River challenges in the future,” Reed said. “What we do now will help address problems in the future. If we can holistically look at the problems, it will help. What we need is a strategy to move forward.”