Along Missouri River, residents warily watch water levels

Thursday, September 23, 2010 | 5:59 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – If the Missouri River rises an inch above 25 feet, James Hill is in trouble.

The self-described eco-artist lives in a basement at Cooper's Landing on the Missouri River. It's a snug place, what with the wood stove and nearby store. But if the river gets too high, the water starts seeping in.

Hill might have to haul his things to higher ground soon. Another round of thunderstorms are forecast to hit mid-Missouri on Thursday evening and a flood watch is in effect through Friday morning.

The National Weather Service on Thursday forecast a crest of 25.7 feet in Boonville on Saturday, which means similar levels downriver at Cooper's Landing.

"There's not much you can do besides let the water go up and let the water come down," Hill said.

About 1.18 inches of rain are expected in Columbia Thursday, said Butch Dye of the National Weather Service in St. Louis. The cold front bringing the rain will usher in more fall-like temperatures, but it also increases the possibility of flooding because the soil is already soaked from recent storms.

Central and northern Missouri are on alert  for imminent significant river flooding, according to the weather service.

But the current flooding isn't nearly as bad as it's been in previous years – or even this summer. Heavy flooding closed as many as 90 roads at a time over the summer, said Jorma Duran, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

On Thursday, 19 roads in northwestern Missouri were closed due to flooding, according to the Transportation Department.

The flooding has affected some farmers, too.

In Hartsburg, Wayne Hilgedick, said high waters drowned about 30 percent of his corn and soybean crops.

But the town's pumpkins, he said, are doing fine.

Hartsburg is known for its pumpkins, featured each October in its pumpkin festival.

Back at Cooper's Landing, Michael Cooper, owner of the marina and music venue, said flooding has forced him to cancel outdoor concerts on five occasions during peak season this summer. If the river rises to 26 feet, he said, both roads leading to his business are impassable and he has to cancel events.

The river's supposed to come a couple inches short of that, according to the Thursday forecast, but Cooper was still keeping his eyes on the water.

"We're just concerned about how much it rains tonight," he said Thursday afternoon. "What happens tonight could cause some problems."

Hill's watching the water level, too. Living in the basement that he and Cooper dug out themselves, he'll have wet feet long before the roads are flooded.

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