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    Levee rehabilitation project partnering success, step forward for farmers

    Levee rehabilitation project partnering success, step forward for farmers

    Courtesy Photo | The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, closed Breach C on Missouri River...... read more read more



    Story by Michael Glasch 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

    “My first impression when I saw the damage along [levee] L-536 was wow! Your jaw drops and for a second you think, ‘Am I even in the Midwest? Have I migrated to one of the coasts?’ Because it just looks like an ocean out there.”

    Those were the thoughts of Corina Zhang, resident engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, Flood Recovery Office, two years ago when she first saw the damage caused to levee L-536 following the massive March 2019 flooding along the lower Missouri River.

    Like many levees along the lower Missouri River, L-536 in Atchison County, Missouri, suffered massive damage when a bomb cyclone hit the Midwest in March 2019. Like levee after levee along the lower part of the river, L-536 was overtopped, causing five breaches, flooding the land behind it, and cutting off vital transportation routes.

    “I was mixed with a lot of emotions. One, of impressiveness of the damage, but you just suppress that because you’re also overcome with sadness and a sort of grief because you know all of these landowners lost all their property, all of the farmers have lost their harvests. It was just devastating,” Zhang explained.

    The perfect storm of events that led to the March 2019 disaster started in 2018. That year the Missouri River saw 165 percent of the average runoff in the basin. That was coupled with above average rainfall and winter snow throughout the lower part of the basin.

    Then in March 2019, on top of the already saturated ground, widespread rainfall of 1 to 3 inches was observed across the region with pockets receiving up to 4 inches in eastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota, melting the snow on the ground. With the ground already saturated, the water had nowhere to go except into the river and its tributaries.

    The impact to Atchison County was substantial and included:
    • 56,000 acres underwater.
    • 121 miles of road destroyed in the county.
    • 14 commercial businesses underwater.
    • 166 homes flooded.
    • 278 citizens forced to evacuate.
    • 1,295 agricultural buildings flooded.
    • An estimated $25 million in lost agricultural revenue.

    “I’ve known a lot of these farmers down here for a lot of years. I’ve done a lot of work on these levee systems. So, really, it’s hard to see the devastation that occurred,” said TJ Davey, USACE Omaha District, lead construction representative.

    It was determined from a USACE cost analysis that, due to the extensiveness of the damages and scour holes at the breach locations, it would be more efficient and more cost effective to realign the south part of the levee rather than repair it in place.

    Unlike levee systems north of L-536, the levee rehabilitation construction phase for L-536 was intentionally delayed for more than a year, allowing the levee sponsor time to obtain the needed real estate for the realignment. To do that required cooperation from a variety of stakeholders and outside agencies.

    Each partner played a key role in the project. Without their combined efforts, the levee realignment would not have been constructed and the levee would have been repaired in place, which would not provide the same incidental environmental benefits and increased system resiliency.
    Acquiring real estate and finding suitable borrow material were two requirements of the levee realignment project that became a focus of partnering efforts. Under the USACE Public Law 84-99 Levee Rehabilitation Program, the levee sponsor is required to provide all real estate and borrow material for a project. However, finding suitable borrow material following the 2019 flood event was a challenge.

    Additionally, the new levee footprint required significantly more real estate than the traditional rehabilitation process.

    “A big hurdle [for the levee sponsor] to overcome was securing the real estate for the new levee footprint,” Zhang said. “In order to do that, all of the landowners needed to be bought into the idea as well. Those conversations take time and [are] part of the reason it took longer to get started.”

    The levee sponsor worked with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service who helped address the real estate challenge by providing an opportunity for landowners to enroll in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program – Floodplain Easements Program. Through this program, NRCS will purchase conservation easements from the enrolled landowners later this year, using disaster funds from the 2019 floods. In a complementary effort, The Nature Conservancy secured options to buy properties in full, after the NRCS easement purchases are complete. The Levee Sponsor also engaged the Missouri state agencies who worked together to find funding to obtain the real estate needed for the levee footprint and to pay expenses for real estate appraisals.

    Further support for the levee realignment effort came through the USACE Missouri River Recovery Program, a habitat restoration program. In addition to providing substantial amounts of borrow material, the MRRP provided land for the new levee. About half of the land that is being reconnected to the river by the levee realignment is currently in the MRRP and will be restored for wildlife habitat. This was truly a win-win scenario with habitat quality improvement also providing significant cost savings, in terms of real estate and borrow material, for the levee sponsors.

    Finally, the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments was a key connection, providing support to the levee sponsors, identifying grant resources, and coordinating with local government.

    “The partnership between all of the external stakeholders is a magnitude above all teams I’ve experienced,” said Zhang. “It’s awesome that they’ve all been very solution oriented.”

    An interesting side note to the restoration efforts on L-536 is that many of the farmers initially impacted by the floods were hired by the USACE prime contractor to help with the construction of the realignment. At one point nearly 70 percent of the equipment operators working on the flood recovery efforts were local farmers and landowners.

    “They gave up a year of crops while we worked together with a multitude of different agencies in order to come up with a plan to be able to do this realignment. To see them out here working on building this levee is extremely encouraging. We’re helping them as they help themselves,” Davey said.

    The L-536 project was highlighted as an innovative, practical, community supported solution by the Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group, established by Missouri Governor Mike Parsons after the 2019 flooding.
    The task of the Working Group was to provide recommendations to address this repetitive threat to Missouri communities. In its final report, the Working Group included recommendations to make the process easier for future communities that might want to consider levee realignment as a tool for flood resilience.
    “I do believe this will be the model of the future,” Parsons said during an interview while on a visit to the project site in early April 2021.

    Significant strides have been made in restoring and constructing the L-536 levee rehabilitation project. The final plans called for filling in the first breach and two critical section losses, restoring the upstream section of the levee, and then realigning the levee from that point on.

    The contract was awarded May 19, 2020, and construction began two weeks later. Work on the realignment portion was awarded July 31, 2020 and contractors for USACE fully returned the entire system to its pre-flood height the first week of March 2021. Almost five miles in length, the realigned portion of the levee reconnects approximately 1,100 acres of floodplain to the river. In addition to giving the river more room to flow, the realignment also creates more wetlands habitat.

    Even with this progress along L-536, a heightened level of flood risk remains for the communities and landowners behind the damaged levee system as restoration efforts remain ongoing. This risk is higher than it was prior to the flood event because the levees comprise a series of components that all function together to create a complete levee system. Until all these components (such as seepage berms and relief wells) are repaired, the system does not fully provide the same level of flood risk reduction as it did in its pre-flood condition.

    “The L-536 team has worked resiliently to reach this major milestone, continually providing innovative solutions with a focus on the ability to construct a high-quality product through adverse winter weather conditions” said Carlie Hively, L-536 project manager, USACE Omaha District. “Returning the system to full height is a great accomplishment for the team and the district, but we continue to press forward to provide the community with a fully repaired levee system as soon as possible.”

    “I’m tremendously proud of the entire team that has worked so hard to restore our federal levee systems. L-536 is another great example of their commitment and expertise,” said Col. Mark Himes, commander, USACE Omaha District. “We’ll continue to keep pushing hard to bring all the federal levees back to their full level of flood risk reduction.”



    Date Taken: 05.06.2021
    Date Posted: 12.31.2021 14:54
    Story ID: 412277
    Location: MO, US

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