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A battered levee system might not offer a long-term flood solution

High water levels continued to threaten homes June 7 in Chamois. As of June 7, none of the homes was reported to have been flooded, according to Elise Brochu.

A canoe floats at the base of a staircase June 2 in Rocheport. The resident of the home used the canoe to get from the front door to other side of the road that was underwater. With the overflowing Missouri River at high levels and causing flooding throughout the state, it was closed to all vessel traffic from mile marker 0 to mile marker 380.

Water from the Missouri River continued to rise June 6 in Hartsburg. Glen Beckmeyer recalled that the water in 1993 was significantly higher and moved faster into the town than it has this year. Unlike this year, that speed prevented the town from protecting itself early on. The rising waters forced Beckmeyer and his family to temporarily evacuate from their home until the water receded.

CHAMOIS, Missouri — In early June, floodwaters from the Missouri River were lapping at the foundation of the Champion Apartments in Chamois, a small riverside town northeast of Jefferson City.

A 14-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother have been living alone in one of the apartments since November, when their mother was hospitalized with a brain tumor. The children are looked after by their grandfather, whose apartment is next door.

Chamois Mayor Elise Brochu checks on the family regularly. As water crept onto the apartment property, Brochu said the girl texted to ask what to do if the apartments flooded.

“If it gets to that point and I’m not already down there, text me and I’ll come get you,” Brochu told her.

In a conference call on June 6, Brochu told officials from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service if the Missouri River rose another 2 or 3 inches, Chamois residents would need to evacuate and move to an emergency shelter in the high school gym.

The river was predicted to crest that day, but 2 or 3 inches was a small margin of error, said Kevin Lowe, who works for the National Weather Service’s Missouri Basin River Forecast Center.

Levee concerns

Chamois is one of hundreds of towns threatened by flooding this year as torrential rain and high runoff cause the Missouri River to smash through levees and inundate thousands of acres of land.

The flooding has renewed decades-old concerns about the effectiveness of the levee system, particularly as extreme weather events have become more common because of climate change. The levee system, a makeshift network of federal and locally owned barriers, has fallen into disrepair, and billions of dollars are needed to address risks to the system.

Approximately 15.5 million people live in the Missouri River Basin, according to the Corps’ Missouri Basin Water Management Division. Flooding on the river threatens around 1.4 million acres of agricultural land and 62,000 residential buildings, valued at $23.8 billion.

At least 64 levees, including the A-1 Levee near Chamois, breached or were overtopped in Missouri and Kansas since the flooding began in March, according to Jud Kneuvean of the Corps’ Kansas City District.

That number only includes the levees in districts that participate in the Levee Safety Program, Kneuvean said. Several hundred more are not part of the program and thus are not monitored by the Corps.

The flooding began during a bomb cyclone in March, when an extreme storm unleashed heavy rainfall across the Plains and damaged 500 miles of levees on the Platte and Missouri rivers. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has scrambled to control rising waters along the Missouri River, which extends more than 2,300 miles from Three Forks, Montana, to the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.

Heavy rains and record-setting runoff in May caused the flooding to continue unabated into the late spring.

J. David Rogers, a geological engineering professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said the current levee system was “woefully inadequate” to protect rural residents from flooding. Without constant costly repairs, the levee system will never offer sufficient protection, he said.

“You can’t control the river forever,” Rogers said.

‘The Big Muddy’

A levee is a natural or artificial barrier developed to stop a river from going where it is not wanted. A natural levee develops when a river deposits coarse sediment along its banks during the flood season. As cities, farms and mines settled along the Missouri River Basin in the 19th century, those natural barriers were reinforced with earth and riprap or rubble for additional flood protection.

But the Missouri River — “The Big Muddy” — is notoriously unruly.

Before the mid-20th century, parts of the river were so shallow that there was no distinct channel. Instead, water freely migrated back and forth across the flood plain in braided fashion.

Levees help narrow and straighten a river, but they also force water to flow swifter and higher, which can lead to more devastating flooding in unprotected areas. Levees also encourage settlements in the river basin, but a swifter, deeper river puts additional pressure on the barrier system during historic floods.

In 1881, a rapid melt of snow pack in the spring caused such a flood, killing thousands of livestock, saturating coal and lumber yards and sweeping away most of Vermillion, a small town in South Dakota. The cost of the damage at the time was estimated in the millions.

More destructive flooding in the 1930s and ‘40s prompted Congress to pass the Flood Control Act of 1944, which authorized the Corps to develop a plan for flood control in the Missouri River Basin.

The “Pick-Sloan Plan,” as it was called, added 1,500 miles of levees from the mouth of the Missouri River to Sioux City, about 100 smaller reservoirs along the river’s tributaries and five additional mainstem dams. The first dam, Fort Peck, had been built in 1937.

Meanwhile, a hodgepodge of states, local agencies and farmers battled local flooding by building hundreds of miles of levees along the Missouri River.

Of the 64 levees that overtopped or breached this year in Kansas and Missouri, all but two were nonfederal levees maintained by local sponsors.

Safety issues

Though the Corps helps finance repairs on levees for districts in its rehabilitation program, maintenance remains the responsibility of the local levee sponsors.

Rogers said the local levee system has fallen into disrepair since building began in the mid-20th century. The mostly earthen barriers have been worn down by the river and battered by extreme weather.

It’s a problem not just on the Missouri River, but nationwide. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s levee system a D in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, estimating that the system needed $80 billion in the next 10 years to maintain and improve it.

Since 2006, the Corps has worked to establish a comprehensive inventory, inspection and risk assessment of the nation’s levees through its Levee Safety Program. The Corps estimates it would need $21 billion in funding to address identified risks in the 2,220 levees it has inspected, including $13 billion for levee infrastructure improvements.

Meanwhile, climate change is expected to make flooding worse in coming years, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Climate scientists expect increased rainfall and soil saturation across the Midwest to lead to a higher risk of inland flooding, with annual damages from flooding projected to exceed $500 million by 2050.

Despite the risk, building has continued in the Missouri River Basin. Statistically, the cumulative flood damage in the river basin since 1993 has exceeded all of the flood damage prior to 1993, Rogers said. Although there are many reasons for that, the principal one is the increased value of properties in the flood-prone zone.

Short of constant, costly repair work, the levee system will never be able to offer a long-term solution to flooding on the Missouri River, he said.

The Corps could better control river flooding by increasing flood storage in the reservoirs, Rogers said, but the federal government encounters political pressure at state and local levels to keep reservoir water high for recreational and hydroelectric power reasons. Those interests tend to focus on benefits to the local economy from year to year, Rogers said.

Another solution is to “let the river be a river” — buy out property in the flood plain and allow the river to return, in part, to its natural state, Rogers said.

A better response to the increased risks caused by climate change would be to build more water storage above ground in the form of reservoirs and below ground in the form of undeveloped flood plains, he said.

The water rises

Brochu was elected mayor of Chamois in 2018. A construction estimator by trade, she grew up on her father’s local farm. After living in St. Louis for 10 years, she moved back to Chamois four years ago.

Since the flooding began, the city’s Facebook page has served as the local information source for the town’s 385 residents. Brochu posted near-daily weather updates and alerted residents to free tetanus shots at city hall.

“I’m starting to feel like The Weather Channel,” she joked in one post.

Brochu relied on the National Weather Service’s online hydrograph for the Missouri River near Chamois, which showed in real time the height of floodwaters, as well as predictions about the rise and fall of the river. The predictions, however, were not always accurate.

“Looks like we crested!” the mayor posted May 24, after the river was predicted to decline from a peak of 27.3 feet.

But the river would continue to rise until the A-1 Levee overtopped. It eventually crested at 29.6 feet on June 6, just 16 inches short of the major flood stage.

Jimmy Barham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the service uses a complex modeling system to predict the rise and fall of the Missouri River. The model takes into account expected precipitation and runoff conditions, but unexpected events like levee failures, increased water output from upstream dams or higher-than-forecast rainfall can quickly change the predictions.

Eight families live in the Champion Apartments, which is only a couple hundred yards from the Missouri River and its tributary Dooling Creek. Brochu said she coordinated an emergency evacuation with the Red Cross, though, fortunately, flooding never reached the buildings, and the plan was never initiated.

That is not to say the town avoided damage.

Along Highway 100, just east of the apartments, floodwaters stagnated in backyards and swallowed sheds.

Blane Cantrell, 43, said he and his wife bought their home on Missouri 100 in October. Even though sandbags bolstered the back of the couple’s house, several inches of fetid water were still pooling in the basement, which Cantrell believes came from an overflowing drainage pipe in the basement floor.

Flooding also closed off Highway 100, swamped the city’s campgrounds and damaged the city well, which might need to be replaced at a cost of $350,000, Brochu said.

“I’ve been telling everyone, ‘Water is my nemesis this year,’” she said.

“You can’t control the river forever.” J. David rogers Geological engineering professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology

'A long time coming': Agriculture Park sets date for grand opening

The Columbia Agriculture Park sits uncompleted at Clary-Shy Community Park in May.

Columbia’s long-awaited Agriculture Park will hold its first Saturday market July 6 as part of its grand opening.

The market will be open that day from 8 a.m. to noon under the new MU Health Care Pavilion in Clary-Shy Community Park.

Columbia Farmers Market executive director Corrina Smith said the covered facility will serve as the new location for the market, allowing customers and vendors to buy and sell local goods in a more comfortable setting.

“When we have some type of precipitation and bad weather, we lose at least half of our customer base, and those products that the vendors brought to market just go to waste, unfortunately,” Smith said.

The Saturday market will remain in its temporary location at Parkade Center through June 29.

The covered space is just one of many ongoing projects planned for the Agriculture Park, including an interactive urban farm, outdoor recreational trail and event center, according to the park’s Facebook page.

Adam Saunders, development director for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said the opening has been “a long time coming.”

“I’m excited for people to see the progress that’s been made to date and what is to come over the rest of this year and the years to come with the later phases,” he said.

In addition to the grand opening, the park will hold its official dedication ceremony at 9 a.m. July 13 at Clary-Shy Community Park.

Saunders said guest speakers will talk about the process and thank the approximately 600 donors who made the project possible.

“It’s going to be a nice ceremony,” he said.

The Agriculture Park Project is a collaboration between the CCUA, Columbia Parks and Recreation, Columbia Farmers Market and Sustainable Farms and Communities, according to the park’s website.

Supervising editor is Tom Coulter.

More projects on the way for Agriculture Park

Missouri River levels to rise again this week

River levels in mid-Missouri are rising again.

According to the National Weather Service, the Missouri River at Boonville is expected to increase to 30 feet — moderate flood stage — by Tuesday night. Major flood stage for Boonville is 34 feet.

Near Jefferson City, the river level is expected to increase to 30 feet — major flood stage — by Thursday morning, according to the weather service.

On Friday, the river levels in both areas had been about 25 feet, but they’ve been increasing since.

However, the weather service predicts the river levels will decrease by about 10 feet by this weekend.

Missouri has been dealing with flooding for more than a month. People along the river have had to evacuate, some being forced into Red Cross shelters.

Boonville’s flood warning lasts until July 6, according to the weather service.

At these river levels, the levees around Jefferson City could possibly be topped, according to the weather service.

Missouri judge allows abortions to continue, for now

An anti-abortion advocate attempts to solicit a motorist entering the parking lot of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, the state’s last operating abortion clinic, Friday in St. Louis.

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri judge on ruled Monday that the state’s lone abortion clinic can continue performing abortions through Friday but kicked the clinic’s lawsuit out of court.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer extended a preliminary injunction he {a target=”—blank” href=””}previously issued{/a} in order to give a Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis time to take a licensing fight before an administrative panel.

Stelzer ruled the clinic has not yet exhausted its options outside of court to handle the dispute over its license to perform abortions. The state health department on Friday {a target=”—blank” href=””}declined to renew{/a} the clinic’s abortion license.

The judge directed Planned Parenthood to take the issue up with the Administrative Hearing Commission, a panel that typically handles disputes between state agencies and businesses or individuals.

“We will continue this fight in the Administrative Hearing Commission, and we won’t stop until every person can access the care they need when and where they need it,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN at Reproductive Health Services at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

She said in a statement that if the commission doesn’t act by Friday, “abortion access in the state of Missouri will be gone.”

Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokesman Steele Shippy said the judge’s ruling affirms the state’s contention that the licensing dispute should be heard by the commission.

“We look forward to trying the merits of this case in front of the AHC in our ongoing effort to ensure Planned Parenthood is following our state’s health laws which are necessary to protect women’s safety,” he said in a statement.

Cases before the commission can be appealed in court.

The fate of the clinic has drawn national attention because Missouri would become the first state since 1974, the year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, without a functioning abortion clinic if it closes. The battle also comes as abortion rights supporters raise concerns that conservative-led states are attempting to end abortion through tough new laws and tighter regulation.

The state has said concerns about the clinic arose from inspections in March.

Among the problems Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services investigators have cited were three “failed abortions” requiring additional surgeries and another that led to life-threatening complications for the mother, The Associated Press reported last week, citing a now-sealed court filing.

Planned Parenthood has said Missouri is using the licensing process as a weapon aimed at halting abortions.

Missouri is among several conservative states, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, to pass new restrictions on abortions in the hope that the high court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.

Parson signed legislation on May 24 to ban abortions at or beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.

The number of abortions performed in Missouri has declined every year for the past decade, reaching a low of 2,910 last year.

Of those, an estimated 1,210 occurred at eight weeks or less of pregnancy, according to health department data.

More Missouri women are getting abortions in Kansas than in Missouri.

Information from the state of Kansas shows that about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed there last year involved Missouri residents.

Kansas has an abortion clinic in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb just 2 miles from the state line.

The nearest clinic to St. Louis is in Granite City, Illinois, less than 10 miles away.

Illinois does not track the home states of women seeking abortions so it’s unknown how many Missouri residents have been treated there.

Abortion clinic licensing issue sent to commission