© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri River Levee Repairs Resume After Being Delayed By May Rain

Courtesy of Fremont County Emergency Management
Water flowing through a levee breach in Fremont County in March.

Progress is being made to repair the damage done to levees on the Missouri River by flooding this spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.
On a conference call, the Corps said heavy rainfall in late May temporarily stopped work on levee repairs on the left bank of the Missouri River. Work has resumed and initial repairs to breaches on several levee systems in southwest Iowa will be finished mid-June to early July.

John Layhow, the Chief of Readiness and Contingency for the Corp’s Northwestern Division, compared the work being done to a medical procedure.

“The triage; stop the bleeding, stop the water from flowing into the leveed areas and then the second portion, allow it to drain out and then seal up those levees so at least we have some level of protection in those leveed areas,” Layhow said.

Layhow says phase II is restoring levee systems back to the level of protection that Congress authorized.

Pat Sheldon, the president of the Benton/Washington Levee District, said contractors have made “very noticeable progress” repairing the breaches. He's been stopping into his flood-damaged home near Percival and saw some of the work being done on a breach.

“They’re going to town on it,” he said.

But, Sheldon said, until the breaches are closed and water has receded fully, the area is still vulnerable to flooding.

“But we’re getting closer, so I’m encouraged by that,” Sheldon said.

According to the Corps, there are approximately 45 breaches from Council Bluffs to the Missouri state line. In an interview with Iowa Public Radio earlier this week, Matthew Krajewski, the Readiness Branch Chief for the Corps' Omaha district, said repairs are about 30 percent done.

At an April public meeting in Sioux City, the Corps said it was predicting that more than 38 million acre feet of runoff will go into the Upper Missouri River Basin this year. Kevin Grode, the Reservoir Regulation Team Lead for the Corps’ Missouri River Basin Management Office, said Thursday the Corps is now predicting 50 million acre feet, partly because of slow-melting snow far to the northwest and higher amounts of rain.

Soil is very saturated, which means it may not be able to hold more rainfall, and more runoff can go into the basin.

Grode said between January and May, 29.6 million acre feet of runoff entered the basin.

“To date, we have received more than an average year's worth of runoff in the upper basin,” Grode said.

The forecast for the upper basin this year is now at 50 million acre feet, close to 200 percent above average. Grode said if this is reached, 2019 will be the second highest runoff year on record in the 121 years that the Corps has kept records. The record is 61 million acre feet in 2011.

“While there are many comparisons to 2011, the big difference between 2019 and 2011 is that mountain snowpack was much above average in 2011,” Grode said. “It’s about average in 2019.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.