Ted Streckfuss, Omaha District Deputy District Engineer, and Commander Col. Mark Himes explains to Senator Roy Blunt and State Representative Allen Andrews the new design on Atchison County’s levee with the angle of the slope.

Commander Col. Mark Himes opens the meeting in the Army Corps of Engineers office located at the 107 exit near Rock Port. Both Senator Roy Blunt and Missouri State Rep. Allen Andrews, along with several project coordinators, were present. Several spoke and explained the current status of the levee project.

Pictured from the top of the Mill Creek Levee looking back northwest you can see the stakes in the ground marking the location of the new levee.

A new levee is being built from Rock Creek to Mill Creek to replace levee 536 that was destroyed by the 2019 flood. Referred to as “swiss cheese” by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representative, the former levee was too far gone to make improvements upon. It’s usually the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to rebuild or fix the existing levees after a flood, but even the Corps realized this levee could not be saved. So, through many, many months (11 to be exact) of hard work and coordination, a contract was awarded in late July to begin building a new, stronger levee, set back from the old one.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Atchison County Levee District, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments, the State Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Economic Development Administration, and others, as well as the five landowners whose land this levee affects came together to make this endeavor possible. An additional 393 acres will now lie on the river’s side of the levee. With monies provided by the NRCS to the farmers using a wetland easement for that unfarmable ground and from TNC to get the amount paid to the farmers up to the land’s original worth before the flood, MDC purchasing the rights to manage those acres as a wildlife refuge, and the levee district purchasing the levee footprint, the project began in early August. The plan is to see the levee finished by Christmas, obviously weather permitting.

With this levee comes some better holding possibilities than the last. The previous levee was 70 years old and built on a 3-1 ratio (three feet lateral movement to every one foot high). With this new levee, the ratio is 6-1 which makes it more broad, hopefully allowing it to withstand more and holding more overtoppage of water if a massive flood were to ever happen again. The levee setback is being constructed using sand from local landowners and from the river as the base, and dirt from the surrounding area, as well as cohesive found from the existing levee and nearby Rock Creek.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Dru Buntin remarked, “People from all the organizations and agencies involved have dedicated time every week to make sure we have been coordinated in communication and action. The group has also been committed to meeting any challenges and hurdles with a problem-solving mindset to keep the project moving.” He went on to say, “DNR was able to provide some funding for required appraisals at critical times to keep the project moving. The Atchison County Levee District board has definitely contributed a significant amount of funding, time, and resources to make this project happen. Our funding worked as a supplement during times when actions had to fall into place at the right time to ensure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could award the contract for the setback. Had all the partners not been able to creatively solve challenges, the Corps would have been forced to return to a construction plan that repaired the levee in its previous location. We also coordinated with a sister agency, the State Emergency Management Agency, to bring in additional funding to assist in securing the needed real estate to allow the setback to occur.”

It’s been quite an undertaking, but a must. As we all know, these so called, once-in-a-lifetime floods seem to be reoccurring much more frequently and with greater damage inflicted. So this project is a much-needed necessity to keep our farmers going and our land protected.