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Levees remain damaged as communities prepare for more Missouri River flooding

Brunswick-Dalton Levee in 2019
ABC 17 News
Floodwaters rush over a road outside Dalton after a breach of the Brunswick-Dalton Levee in spring 2019.
Missouri River flooding prep
ABC 17 News
Crews work along the Missouri River near Orrick to make temporary repairs to damaged levees in February 2020.
Brunswick-Dalton Levee sandbags
ABC 17 News
Sandbags help protect property from floodwaters in Chariton County in spring 2019.
Brunswick-Dalton Levee flooding
ABC 17 News
Floodwater threatens Chariton County property in spring 2019.
Brunswick-Dalton Levee breach
ABC 17 News
A breach in the Brunswock-Dalton Levee, seen in February 2020.
Brunswick-Dalton Levee breach closeup
ABC 17 News
A closeup of the breach in the Brunswick-Dalton Levee, seen in February 2020.
Road outside Dalton
ABC 17 News
A road outside Dalton, Missouri, that was covered in floodwater in spring 2019 is seen in February 2020.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Missouri River flood of 2019 devastated many communities along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The spring outlook for 2020 is showing flooding can be expected again. Some experts even hint that it could be worse than last year.

The biggest concern going into the spring is that many damaged levees across the Missouri River haven't been fixed.

"This year is different, we know that we're coming in on the side of too much water this year," said Tom Waters, chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association. "I think a lot of levee districts are scrambling. A lot of folks are going out and trying to do some temporary patchwork where they can. Honestly, it's been so wet all winter into fall, we got little work done."

Right now, the United States Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District has 67 levee rehab projects out, with 20 projects out for bid and four contracts out for repairs. The Corps told ABC 17 News that most damaged levees might not get fixed for another two years.

"We expect to have all repair projects advertised and/or awarded by summer 2020," a Corps spokesperson said.

Those damaged levees possibly not getting repaired in time for spring is what has Waters and other levee leaders concerned. Waters said the flood of 2019 lasted more than 270 days, which is significantly longer than the duration of the 1993 flood.

Bob Littleton, Brunswick-Dalton Drainage District president, said locals are "praying for some dry days" so repairs can be made to their levee before more flooding arrives.

"The Corps of Engineers told us that come March if we can get all our paperwork and everything done that they will be here to put a temporary levee up to hold the water back until they can build a permanent levee," Littleton said.

While Missouri communities are waiting for dry days to fix levees, the Corps says it is working as hard as it can to get all damaged levee construction contracts approved by the summer. Along with that, the Corps is doing more public outreach about what's to come this year, training with emergency response teams and more aggressive releases from mainstream dams such as Gavins Point.

While levee presidents are focused on 2020, many are also looking to the Corps and FEMA to find long-term solutions for the Missouri River. "We have to do something different. We cannot continue on the path that we're on because we're paying a heavy price for it," Waters said.

One of the solutions some have brought up is raising the levee height. FEMA is the agency in charge of levee regulations and changes to those rules. The Corps told ABC 17 News "the Kansas City District Corps of Engineers does not endorse the raising of levee heights without sufficient study to understand the associated consequences of doing so."

"It's borderline ludicrous that we don't make improvements," Waters said. "You know, because we know where the failures are."

Waters added that congressional leaders need to continue to keep this issue at the top of their priorities.

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Deborah Kendrick

Deborah is a weekday morning anchor and investigative reporter for ABC 17 News.

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