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Some Southwest Iowa Levee Breaches Will Get Repairs Soon

Katie Peikes
IPR file
Flooding over a levee seen in Hamburg, IA.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to fix the enormous levee breaches caused by flooding along the Missouri River in March. The corps' Omaha District has awarded some contracts to fill massive holes in some southwest Iowa levees.
The Corps on Friday evening announced it had awarded a $6 million contract to mend a 1,200-foot-long breach on a levee in Mills County. Earlier this month, it awarded contracts totaling almost $20 million to repair levee breaches near Hamburg and Percival in Fremont County at levee unit L575. 

According to the Corps, the repairs aim to “provide temporary flood protection” at the breached areas. Contractors will use a barge and dredge system and scoop up mud and sand from one place and use that to fill holes in the levees.

Ted Streckfuss, the deputy district engineer for the Corps’ Omaha district, says this work will be a start to getting the Missouri River back to where it was before the flood.

“As we continue with additional contract efforts, we’re going to begin that rehabilitation process of bringing the levee systems back up to an elevation,” Streckfuss said.

Kim Ashlock lives about a half-mile away from levee L575 near Hamburg. She says the breach repairs will stop water from flowing onto her property, but it won’t save it from the damage that has already been done.

“The only thing that fix is going to do to benefit my family is in hopes that we can get there in a vehicle and get out anything we have left," Ashlock said.

Ashlock visited her home by airboat Friday. The breach, she said “is so large, it looks like it should just be that way.” Some of the levee breaches are 50 to 70 feet deep, according to the Corps.

The corps expects work on the breach repairs at L575 near Hamburg to be finished mid-June. Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Crecelius called it a “Band-Aid fix” to keep water from flowing in.

“Any bad weather, any rains in the river, could wash that all away and they’d have to start all over,” Crecelius said.

Streckfuss says it could take a couple of years and billions of dollars to fully rehabilitate the broken levee systems. Crecelius said he is worried about that timeframe and how vulnerable his county could still be to more flooding.

“I understand why it will take that long, but on the other hand, that makes it a little iffy and scary on our side of the fence,” Crecelius said.

Streckfuss assured that the Corps is working hard to give them some level of protection from localized flooding. With how large the damage is, Streckfuss said the Corps is working on developing a strategy with states along the Missouri River “to provide interim levels of repair en route to a final rehabilitation that meets the original authorized purpose that was defined by Congress.”

He emphasized that the Corps' No. 1 priority is life safety and flood control is one of the Corps' eight authorized purposes that Congress defined for managing the river.

The corps had a meeting with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, the governors of Nebraska, Missouri and the lieutenant governor of Kansas on Friday, Streckfuss said, to talk about rebuilding the levee systems and the corps' priorities. It’s the second meeting since the beginning of April, when the governors of Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri came together to say that states should have more input in the management of the river.

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.