In the wake of flooding that devastated the city of Hamburg and the surrounding area beginning in March of this year, Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, are pressing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to follow through on its commitment to rebuild a levee that is a key line of defense in protecting that community.
Following record flooding in 2011, the Corps mandated that the “Ditch 6 Levee” be lowered eight feet, from a 919-foot level to a 911-foot level. That same levee — at the reduced height ordered by the Corps — was overtopped during this year’s flooding, contributing to the destructive flooding that left two-thirds of the city of Hamburg under water and the city, businesses and homeowners with a $20 million cleanup bill.
After discussions with the city of Hamburg and the state of Iowa, Ernst and Grassley said the Corps committed last June to rebuilding the levee to its original 919-foot level height — the levee height in 2011 prior to the Corps requiring the levee height be lowered by eight feet.
The Corps, the senators said, has not made good on that promise to Hamburg city officials.
In a letter to R.D. James, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, and Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grassley and Ernst noted city and state officials had numerous conversations with the Corps’ Omaha District in June, July and August during which the Corps confirmed it had funding for its portion of the levee build and that work could begin once the worksite was dry.
Two weeks ago, on Aug. 14, the city and state were notified by the Corps that the Corps no longer had “authority” to rebuild the Ditch 6 Levee to the 919-foot-level and that it will only be built to the 911-foot-level — lowering the levee from its current height as it was no longer “an emergency measure.”
This despite the fact that the Missouri River remains at or near flood stage in many locations because of continued high releases from the Corps’ Missouri River reservoir system.
With releases from the Gavins Point Reservoir remaining at 70,000 cubic feet per second, well above “normal” for this time of year, Grassley and Ernst were spot on with their comment that “with high flows continuing on the river, Hamburg is a heavy rain away from being flooded again.
As a result, the city of Hamburg needs to have the Ditch-6 levee built to 919 foot-level immediately as a first line of defense to a compromised levee system, which the Corps refers to as ‘delicate’ at best.”
Grassley and Ernst are right in demanding that the Corps honor the agreement reached with the city of Hamburg and the state of Iowa. It’s a demand that should be echoed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and lawmakers.