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Restoration of Missouri River levee system won’t hold back another historic flood

“You could build them as high as you wanted to, but it’s just going to effect somebody else,” said Todd Tobias, US Army Corps of Engineers.
Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 10:39 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Final touches are being made up and down the Missouri River on levees destroyed by the 2019 flood.

“We’re topped out and ready to go, all we need to do is a little grass seed and some levee surfacing,” said Todd Tobias, US Army Corp of Engineers, Omaha District, who’s leading the way on the restoration of L-594 in Fremont County.

The 14-mile long levee protects a handful of homes, farmland, and a lot more.

“We have the Burlington Northern Railroad and I-29 and the amount of commerce that goes down those lines is very important,” said John Askew, Chair of the local levee district, which is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the levee.

“It’s new and improved just because it’s new,” said Askew, who’s a sixth-generation family farmer. “We’ve looked at every bit of this levee section.”

More than 1.7 million cubic square yards of sand, clay, topsoil have gone into restoring the levee. That’s enough to fill nearly 520 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“This dirt has to be optimum moisture it’s gotta be compacted to 95%, it’s not just throwing dirt in a pile and calling it good,” said Tobias. “There’s a lot of effort it takes to get it right.”

Setting the levee back even further from the Missouri River to help relieve some pressure.

“It takes pressure off sort of the whole system because as you can see there’s a bluff and there’s no way it can go that way,” said Askew, “So basically it got pushed up here and shot right down.”

Sloping down from the levee is a 150-foot berm to help buffer the blows with a toe drain at the bottom to also help relieve pressure.

When asked if he’s confident this levee withhold in the event of another historic flood, Askew said: “If we have another 2019, none of these will hold,” said Askew.

“We design them for a certain level of protection and when that level of protection is exceeded, there’s nothing we can do,” said Tobias, noting it’s up to Congress to approve any changes to build the levees taller, and that higher isn’t always better.

“There’s gotta be a cutoff,” he said. “I mean you could build them as high as you wanted to, but it’s just going to affect somebody else.”

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