If you’re hit over the head over and over, you’ll finally just quit complaining and accept your lumps. What’s another lump or two? It still hurts, let’s just fast-forward to the end already. So when a friend asked, “How come we’re not hearing more about the Missouri River levee breach and the large-scale flooding?”, I already knew the answer.
Or, at least I suspected the answer: How many more flooding stories can we continue to hear (and care) about? Yes, that’s a question instead of an answer, but an actual answer may be a bit subjective and difficult to quantify.
Another flooding story? Yes, another flooding story. And with all the heartbreak and ruin of all the other flooding stories. This time it’s along the swollen banks of the Missouri on the Missouri-Iowa border near the town of Hamburg in southwestern Iowa. Two breaches of the levee have occurred, the first early yesterday morning and it was estimated the gap was nearly 300 feet by last night. Corps of Engineers (USACE) experts have estimated the current levees will be topped by two feet, while workers are furiously attempting to add an additional three feet atop the existing embankments. (Actually, this is the third breach as the first occurred earlier this month.)
Experts suspect too much damage to the levee and it will not be immediately repaired. Now, all efforts are focusing on diverting the flow, hopefully mitigating the damage. It’s possible parts of Hamburg could be flooded by as much as 10 feet of water displacing more than 1,100 people.
Banks and levees along the mighty Missouri have truly been put to the test during the spring and now early summer of 2011. Snowmelt and heavy rains are to blame, and there have been flooding issues from Montana to Missouri. This year though, there was abundant snowfall and the warming temperatures of spring were delayed. Instead of a gradual run-off over the course of many weeks, it’s all happened at once. In addition, last week’s flooding rains across Montana (and later Iowa) have only exacerbated the flooding situation.
Once the longest river in North America, even greater than the Mississippi River, the Missouri has been channeled and straightened for irrigation and to better accommodate navigation. Because of the increasing river traffic, the early 20th century brought even more damming and channeling. Though this process of channelization has brought many benefits to the communities along the length of the 2,300-mile river, the safety of thousands upon thousands of people now rely on levees and dams that are, in many places, 100 years old.