Widening river project in talks after two levees fail

Widening river project in talks after two levees fail
(Source: Army Corps of Engineers)
(Source: Army Corps of Engineers)
(Source: Mike Mohundro/KFVS)
(Source: Mike Mohundro/KFVS)

ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Sunday, Jan. 10 was the last full day the Army Corps of Engineers will be in Alexander County and parts of southeast Missouri. The agency checked on levees during the historic flood and documented findings and information.

The last several days crews have mainly been documenting the levees on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, documenting the toll and impact of the flood.

"We asses, we react and then we document is basically what we do," said Michael Watson, Army Corps of Engineers Structural Engineer.

Watson said the documentation after the 2011 flood actually has helped them make progress, aiding the agency a lot with this year's flooding.

"Marking sand boils where there's a lot of seepage, reading preso meters," Watson said. "It's a measuring device that goes down in the ground. It will tell us how deep the water is and it gives us an idea what kind of pressures we have on the levees."

Because of the existing documentation of the 2011 flood, the agency was able to make some progress on the flooding in the Heartland's latest flooding event.

"The big difference is the construction we've done between 2011 and 2015," Watson said. "Because of all the documentation that we did in 2011, and it being post Katrina, we were able to get a lot of construction done. Because of the documentation, we were able to justify the work needed to be done up here."

The Corps is also looking at data to see if any progress is being made with levees from past floods.

"That's another thing that we've done out here is we're documenting how well the system has done since we've added the new construction," Watson said. "Because we basically have before and after data that we can compare."

One area of concern encountered during this year's flood was a pumping station in Cairo on 28th Street that didn't working properly. Crews spent a day working on it, and were able to get it fixed fairly quickly.

Watson also took some time during this flood to draw up some new digital maps. They have been using digital maps and some paper maps from the past for referencing.

One area Watson noticed while drawing a map was that there is a restriction on the Mississippi River in the area of the Lens Small Levee in Alexander County, Illinois and the Powers Island Levee in Scott County, Missouri. This area of the river is more narrow and water isn't as spread out as much, which results in a faster and more damaging flow.

"I actually laid out the Powers Island Levee and the Lens Small Levee and noticed that there was a severe restriction in the levee," Watson said. "Because the Feds really don't have any control over those levees and the locals have just built them. And you know it was just a farmer basically going out there and piling up some dirt."

These are the two levees that ended up breaking in this recent flood.

Watson said the Corps is in talks with MIssouri, Illinois and federal officials in hopes of getting a project going in that area to widen the river to help minimize pressure on the levees and help minimize the chance of another levee failure.

"Hopefully get a project out of it that would potentially reduce the water levels in Olive Branch area and Miller City and hopefully that levee wouldn't fail as often," Watson said.

Watson said those two levees aren't up to scale in comparison to the levees managed by the Corps of Engineers.

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