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Environmental Group Calls For More Monitoring Of Mississippi River Levees

Kate Payne/IPR file
An environmental advocacy group is calling for more federal oversight and maintenance of the Upper Mississippi River levee system.

Environmental advocates are calling attention to the state of the Upper Mississippi River levee system, which was under pressure this past spring as communities saw record flooding.

Following heavy rains and snows and record flooding in 2019, the Environmental Law and Policy Center is raising concerns about the safety of the Upper Mississippi River levee system.

According to an ELPC analysis of federal records from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Levee Database, many of the levees haven’t been assessed since 2016. And the Army Corps of Engineers has never assessed the safety of 20 locally-maintained levees in Iowa.

The ELPC report found that a need for "much more robust monitoring, reinforcement and repairs" in light of the "vital role" levees play in "defending riverfront communities and lands from damage."

“Even after the spring floods of last year, which had to have weakened many of the levees, there doesn’t seem to be an urgency in taking the time, spending the money and getting out there, and monitoring, reviewing and doing engineering assessments of these levees and figuring out what needs to be fixed,” said ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner.

Learner says the structures are slated to face more pressure as the climate changes and the risk for increased rainfall, heavier snowfalls and other unseasonable weather increases.

“We better make sure that they are monitored, they’re repaired and they’re up to snuff so that people, communities, farmland aren’t put at risk as we see more flooding happening,” Learner said.

The ELPC found eight Iowa levees are rated as at-risk, either at the low, moderate or high level.

A Clinton, Iowa levee is assessed at high risk while levees in Fruitland and Guttenberg are labeled as moderate risk.

Levees in Burlington, and north of Burlington, as well as in Bettendorf and Dubuque are rated at low risk, as is the levee in Davenport that protects its water treatment plant.

Collectively, the at-risk levees pose a potential threat to some 29,000 people and nearly $5 billion worth of property.