Missouri River levees that were damaged by last year’s floodwaters remain vulnerable, with spring a little over two months away. Congress has appropriated money for emergency repairs and more money is promised.
Colonel Robert Ruch, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Omaha District, says they’re focused on repairing the critical sections of levee first. “Most of those levees held up very well through the flood of 2011,” Colonel Ruch says.
“We know where our greatest weaknesses are and that’s where we’re putting our greatest strength.” Floodwaters breeched some levees in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska, damaged others, and put great strain on all the levees downstream.
Ruch says it will take months to restore the basin’s levee system to where it was in early 2011. “We probably need a full year to get things completely restored back to pre-flood conditions,” Ruch says. “We have ideas as to what the critical things are that need to be ready for as early as March 1st, when we consider the runoff season to begin and where we could be in some danger of rising waters.”
Kim Thomas, chief of the Corps’ “Readiness Branch” in Omaha, acknowledges the Missouri River levee system remains vulnerable. “Those levees are definitely in critical condition,” Thomas says. “We’ll get them closed up. We’ll get the bridges closed up. We’ll get all the critical repairs done but there’s still a lot to go there. We have a lot of seepage concerns that we have to go through and get geotech investigation on, do analysis, do design.”
Thomas says the first order of business is to repair the sections of levee that are most severely damaged. “Those pieces will be fixed,” she says. “It’s the under-foundation seepage issues that require extensive analysis and that takes time.”
Some estimates indicate it could be late this year or even 2013 before repairs to the levee system are complete.