Flooding along Missouri River unlikely

Monday, June 16, 2008 | 9:06 p.m. CDT; updated 3:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Waters along the Missouri River remain high but should begin falling later this week as the forecast calls for several days without rain.

As the Mississippi River begins to crest in northeast Missouri and surpass records set in 1993, the question is what will happen once all that water makes its way downstream towards St. Louis, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet.

Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said he expects some water from the Mississippi to back up into the Missouri. That water shouldn’t be enough to cause a significant rise in river levels past St. Charles, which is 105 miles east of Columbia, he said.

“I’m not too concerned about the Missouri River at this point,” Fuchs said. “The crests aren’t looking like they’re going to get any higher.”

Data from gauges and crest predictions by the weather service shows that many points west of Columbia along the Missouri River topped out late last week; further crests are expected this weekend at Chamois, Hermann and Washington.

Water levels along the Mississippi River are influenced by a variety of factors, including the width and depth of the channel, the amount of water flowing through the channel, and the number of smaller rivers and streams that flow into the river itself. In northeast Missouri, the channel of the Mississippi River is narrower, and during wet periods more water flows in from smaller rivers to the north in Iowa. Meanwhile, the channel opens up wider as the Mississippi River flows past St. Louis and cuts its way to the south allowing more water to enter from the Ohio River. It is this wider channel and the lower levels of the Missouri River that make severe flooding unlikely.

“You’ll see some water backing up at St. Charles, but not much farther upstream,” Fuchs said. “At Washington it’s going to be coming down pretty hard after Thursday and should be below flood stage by Saturday — so long as we don’t get any more rain.”

The water level will start a consistent drop of 4 to 6 feet at Glasgow, Boonville and Jefferson City today and continue through the week.

The high waters have been troublesome at favorite destination spots such as Cooper’s Landing, which sits along the Missouri River south of Columbia.

Dale Davis, who camps at Cooper’s from November to May, said flood waters closed Smith Hatchery and Easley roads, the main access points to the site, leaving the MKT Trail near Easley Road as the only way for people to get to the landing.

“The water’s been terrible,” Davis said. “Everything’s gone to hell in a hand basket. They had to close the kitchen and cancel concerts last weekend.”

Water has been creeping up near camp sites and the entertainment area, he said. But Davis was optimistic things would be business as usual this coming weekend.

“The water is going down about an inch an hour,” Davis said. “I suspect the kitchen will be open and shows will be going on this weekend.”

Meanwhile, Fuchs added that crests along the Mississippi River this weekend appear to be relatively flat; levels start falling after Sunday. The forecast shows a relatively dry week in the upper Midwest, which should help the situation.

But Fuchs said that doesn’t equate with breathing a sigh of relief. Any more rain in the Missouri and Mississippi river basins could affect the outlook.

“That could all change, of course,” Fuchs said. “We’re not at a stage where we can say we’re out of the woods. Any rain up through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin isn’t a good thing at this point in time.”

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