© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Southwest Iowa Levees Need Much Repair: 'We're At Mother Nature's Mercy Right Now'

Courtesy of Fremont County Emergency Management
Pat Sheldon describes the damage to the levee system as, “Big ruts of erosion down the side where we had overtopping...eating away the sod and the soil..."";

Extreme damage to Missouri River levees from flooding has officials in southwest Iowa concerned that they won’t be fixed in time for more possible flooding this spring. These levees that are built to prevent rivers from overflowing are in disrepair.
The Benton/Washington Levee District runs from just south of Thurman in southwest Iowa, to the Missouri state line. Pat Sheldon, president of the district, said that stretch of levee has had numerous breaches. 

“Big ruts of erosion down the side where we had overtopping – which is water flowing over the top of our levees – eating away the sod and the soil and the material that makes our levee strong. That’s how our breach on our district started,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon says it’s possible the entire system may need to be totally rebuilt.  He's not sure anything can be done before the area floods again this spring. 

"We're at Mother Nature's mercy right now," Sheldon said.

The National Oceanic and Atmopheric Administration Thursday said western Iowa is considered to be at elevated risk of major flooding between now and May, as deep snow still on the ground in South Dakota and Minnesota melts in the weeks ahead.  Sheldon worries the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may not be able to get the levee repaired in time to hold back the expected Missouri River flooding resulting from the snowmelt, and will have to let Mother Nature run her course.

“There’s not much we can do unless they [the Army Corps of Engineers] can come in and do some temporary repairs around our breaches to give us some protection so people can go home,” Sheldon said.

It’s unclear how much the repairs will cost, but Sheldon says in 2011 about $150 million was spent on repairing levees in Fremont County. He fears this time, it will be more expensive.

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.