There was good news for flood-weary southwest Iowans Monday: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said three of the four worst levee breaches along the Missouri River in southwest Iowa were expected to be closed by the end of the day.
Missouri River flooding in mid-March and again last month resulted in 40 breaches that left the state with millions in damages. While necessary repairs are still far from complete, The Associated Press reported Iowa is now closer to closing the holes that exposed the Missouri River Valley to extreme flooding damage.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that the closure of the four breaches has a projected cost of more than $34 million.
The flooding has been so intense for months that the river is now flowing in a new direction — east instead of south — heading overland toward Interstate 29, a rail line and southwestern Iowa communities.
Matthew Krajewski, the readiness branch chief for the Corps’ Omaha District, said, “Our immediate goal is to stop the river from flowing the wrong direction, to keep it from going east — to make it go south again.”
Krajewski said that the four breaches were targeted initially as priorities because of the infrastructure they protect.
The largest of the four breaches is 1,200 feet on a levee that protects parts of Council Bluffs, Highway 34, Interstate 29, two energy plants, a rail line, a Google data center and the town of Pacific Junction. The other breaches were in levees protecting Bartlett, Percival and Hamburg.
With construction repairing the four breaches now in its final stages, the Corps is planning to move on to a $44.2 million project to fill two holes in the levee near Watson, Missouri, that has threatened Interstate 29 south toward St. Joseph, Missouri.
While the Corps’ news that three of the four worst levee breaches have been closed, it’s not exactly time for dancing in the streets. Holes are being filled to a minimum level of protection, not to the levee height or condition that existed before this spring’s flooding. Krajewski said that additional work will be needed to reach that level of protection.
The AP reported that the Corps is targeting March 2020 to close all the breaches along the river between Omaha and Rulo, Nebraska.
Unlike the years that have followed the flooding of 2011 — years when Congress accomplished virtually nothing to meaningfully improve flooding protection for cities on both sides of the Missouri River — we will hopefully see a more enlightened timely approach from our elected representatives in the coming months and years.
While we understand the various interests that compete in determining how the Corps manages the Missouri River, the needs of those special interests pale in importance when measured against the obvious need for flood control to be the Corps’ primary responsibility.