Flooding Forces Evacuation In West Alton, Communities Fight Rising Waters Across The Region | St. Louis Public Radio

Flooding Forces Evacuation In West Alton, Communities Fight Rising Waters Across The Region

Jun 3, 2013

Developing Story, will be updated

Updated at 10:35 a.m. Thursday, June 6:

MSD says the Mississippi River has dropped enough to turn the pumps back on at Watkins Creek, ending the discharge of untreated wastewater into the river. The agency is asking that residents continue to avoid floodwaters in the area of the station, which is in the 11000 block of Riverview in Spanish Lake.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. with information from MSD:

The rising water has forced the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to shut down its Watkins Creek pumping station in north St. Louis County.

The station brings sewage from low-lying areas up to the Bissell Point treatment plant. But with the Mississippi River above 40 feet, the pumping station is flooded. MSD says a similar situation occurred in 1993, leading to an electrical fire, so the agency has cut power to the pumps.

For that reason, about 2.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater is flowing into the Missisippi River. The agency reported the discharge to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and asks residents to avoid contact with floodwater around the station.

Updated 10:47 a.m. June 5 from St. Charles County officials:

·        Overall, the Consolidated North County Levee is still a concern because the water is up, but the situation is stable. Crews are doing maintenance checks along the levee and addressing problem spots when identified.

·        The flood burm on Hwy 94 between Dwiggins Rd. and the Ameren plant was completed at 6:30 a.m. today. This was a protective measure.

·        For the area East of Hwy 67, initial reports are that 10-12 homes have flooding in the basement or first floor. The City of West Alton plans to do a survey by boat today to get eyes on the home count.

Update at 2:41 p.m. from St. Charles County officials:

·        The Rivers Pointe Fire Chief Rick Pender is confirming this is a breach on the Mississippi River side of the levee system, very close to the confluence.  The breach is a 100-150 ft. section.

·        Rivers Pointe has completed notification of residents; there are an estimated 43 homes in the area east of Hwy 67.

·        It has been reported that water has travelled approximately two miles inside the levee.

Updated 2:02 p.m.

St. Charles County officials say the levee breach reported at 1:30 p.m. is approximately 100 feet wide:

The breach is approximately 100 ft. at the eastern most tip of the Consolidated North County Levee. Initial reports are that it was on the Missouri River side; however, Metro Air Support is en route to assess and pinpoint the exact location. Rivers Pointe officials are also en route from the ground. 

Update 1:31 p.m. on new levee breach in St. Charles County

St. Charles County sent out the following information.

There is a confirmed levy breach of the Consolidated North County Levee on the Missouri River side. There is not a specific location available at this time, but this is a different location than last night’s breach. West Alton residents east of Hwy 67 are advised by city officials to evacuate at this time. Rivers Pointe and West Alton officials are en route to the location to coordinate assessment and response.

Mike Petersen of the Army Corps of Engineers says that this is a federally-owned levee. He also said there is a crew on the scene to confirm that there was, in fact, a breach, and to assess the impact.

Earlier updates:

St. Charles County officials are advising approximately 350 residents in West Alton to evacuate now due to flooding.

County officials say there was a levee breach near Hwy 67 and Lincoln Shields Access Rd.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Spokesman, Mike Peterson, says a crew is on the ground assisting with the situation.

“We want to make sure that we have technical expertise on the ground in case any issues start to pop up,” Peterson says.  “So far we haven’t seen anything with our flood walls or levees that are reason for major concern, but we want to be out there with the locals in case anything pops up.”

Rising waters

The latest round of rain has once again pushed rivers in Missouri out of their banks.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs says the Mississippi River at St. Louis will hit about 40 feet. In St. Charles, the Missouri River will get to about 34 feet - several feet higher than its crest during April's flooding. And Fuchs says the Meramec River is starting to impact homes in Arnold.

While Fuchs isn't expecting a repeat of 1993's record flooding, he says it can't be completely ruled out.

"The rivers are already very high, and any significant rain events in the Missouri or Mississippi River basin at this point will cause problems," he said. Rain is in the forecast on Wednesday and Thursday.

Levees in good shape

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has six of its seven flood-fighting teams monitoring the situation, and engineering chief Dave Busse says all the major urban protection levees are in good shape, though smaller levees are being overtopped.

"There's always risk behind the levee," he said. "I've been in this business a long time, and I've never seen a perfect levee, but we're not seeing anything we're not expecting to see."

One of those smaller levees is in West Alton, Mo., about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Mayor William Richter says water has started coming over portions of the levee protecting the small town from the Mississippi, and the river is expected to rise another three inches before cresting.

Two diagrams showing current river levels and projected river forecasts for the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. These diagrams change as time progresses.
Credit (NOAA)

West Alton also flooded in April, and Richter says while it's uncomfortable to go through it again, it's not unexpected.

"April was too early," he said. "It might sound weird, but that came and the snow melt hadn't happened yet. We know that more water was coming, we just hoped it wasn't this much."

Barge traffic impacted

Locks and dams up and down the Mississippi River have been closed since Friday, and the U.S. Coast Guard announced today that it was closing the river between the Merchants and MacArthur bridges near St. Louis to all barge traffic. Ryan Christensen, the Coast Guard's assistant waterways chief, says tug boats will be allowed out to clear debris from barges and prevent breakaways.

Christensen says there's been no reports of major breakaways, though crews are still working to free a barge from the Wabash Railroad bridge near mile 27 on the Missouri River.  That bridge remains closed to rail traffic, though the river is open to navigation. The barge was helping with  construction on the Blanchette Bridge.

He's also urging recreational boaters to stay off the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers until flooding subsides.

"There are high currents, and there's a lot of drift," he said. "Most of the boat ramps are probably underwater anyway, so if you're thinking of recreational traffic, please shift it off the main rivers."

Missouri River floods adjacent roads, threatens Jefferson City airport

Flood waters at a number of sites along the Missouri River remain high, although they’re beginning to drop.  Numerous roads adjacent to the Missouri remain submerged.  Ken Warbritton, an engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, warns motorists not to drive across flooded roads, even if the water appears shallow.

"Turn around, find another way," Warbritton said.  "We have folks that are watching those areas; (our) local maintenance sheds know where they are and monitor those and barricade and close them when they get inundated."

An interactive map with the latest road conditions can be found at modot.gov.

Also, several aircraft have been evacuated from Jefferson City Memorial Airport, which is adjacent to the Missouri River.  Airport Manager Ron Craft says, though, the airport itself is not flooded and remains open.

In addition, Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is warning boaters to avoid flooded waterways.

"We know particularly flooded rivers and streams can have very fast-moving currents in areas where maybe there typically isn't a current, and this can become very dangerous for boaters," Hotz said.  "The fast-moving water can easily capsize or flip a boat."

Hotz said fast-moving flood waters can also hide debris and other floating objects.

Follow Rachel Lippmann and Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @rlippmann @MarshallGReport