The Army Corps of Engineers says it's on track to complete temporary repairs by Nov. 30 to two of the three sections of the Mississippi River levee in southeast Missouri that were intentionally breached in early May to relieve upriver flooding. Work on the third section, located near a heavily-wooded state conservation area, will begin following completion of an environmental assessment in mid-September and should be finished by next spring according to spokesman Jim Pogue.
Operation of the 35 mile long Bird's Point-New Madrid floodway covered 134,000 acres of land that produces nearly $100 million annually of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.
The Corps' repairs at all three crevasse sites are intended to provide interim protection to a flood elevation of 51 feet on the gage at Cairo, Ill. The original levee protected against a rise to 62.5 feet. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., toured the floodway this week.
"The floodway is a rich agriculture and it has huge economic impact," Blunt said. "If you don't get that levee back to the 60 plus levee that it was before they took it down, you're going to have a flood in that area probably every other year."
Pogue says Army engineers are committed to a full restoration, but currently lack the necessary funding. He says rebuilding the levee to its original height must be done in a way that prevents further damage to other parts of the Mississippi River and Tributary System.
"If we just went and unilaterally restored the floodway without doing work on other parts of the system, another big flood next spring there could be some tremendous pressures put on those other weakened parts of the system and we might see a catastrophic failure," Pogue said.
The Corps has 40 personnel and 13 pieces of heavy equipment working at the upper crevasse site at Bird's Point located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and at the southernmost opening at New Madrid, Mo., filling scour holes with sand to the required depth and capping them with clay and reshaping levee segments. More than 107,000 tons of sand has been used so far.