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Levee damage changes management plan for Missouri River

(Via Flickr/USACEPublicAffairs/Photo by Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk)
Aerial views of the Missouri River in the Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota area June 8, 2011. The upstream Garrison Dam was releasing water into the Missouri River at a flow of 140,000 cubic feet per second.

Reporting from KXCV's Kirk Wayman also used in this report.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it's unlikely that all the levees damaged by record flooding along the Missouri River last summer will be repaired by spring - and that's changing the way the Corps manages the river.

At the peak, more water was rushing from Missouri River dams in Montana and the Dakotas than goes over Niagara Falls. Those record releases sparked widespread flooding downstream, and caused millions of dollars in damage to Missouri levees.

The Corps' chief water management officer, Jody Farhat, says the incomplete repairs means the agency will be more flexible when it comes to releasing water this year.

"That's why we showed higher than normal releases during this winter period, and why we are attempting to evacuate additional flood control storage."

Farhat says the Corps also plans to cancel two so-called "pulses" in March and May that are meant to benefit the pallid sturgeon, an endangered fish.

Big flooding again this year?

And what about the likelihood of the Missouri River flooding in such a significant way again this year?

Weather forecasters say drier soil and a lower snow pack make a repeat of last year's record flooding along the Missouri River less likely.

A heavy snowfall last winter was followed by record rains in May. That combination is what forced the Corps to release the record amount of water, and, following that, the damaging flooding.

South Dakota state climatologist Dennis Todey says peak snowfall season is usually February and March.

"So there still is time to collect and put snowfall in these areas, but in contrasting with last year, we are well behind where we were in the way of snow accumulation at this point," Todey said.

Officials with the Corps say even with above-average precipitation, peak releases from the dams will be less than a third of the record set last year. That's good news for residents along the rivers.

Money to help rebuild

More good news comes in the form of money to help rebuild.

The state of Missouri is creating more than $3.3 million in grants to help north Missouri communities repair flood-damaged Missouri river levees.

Seven local levee districts from the Iowa border through north of Kansas City can share in the money coming from community development block grants, and, in some cases, paying for nearly all the repairs.

Bill Britton is emergency manager in Buchanan County where one levee south of St. Joseph has more than a mile's worth of breaches. He says the danger remains, and the money is welcomed.

“We still have these big holes in our levees and our county roads are in danger, and lots of homes down there are in danger if we have a significant winter - which we hope we don’t,” Britton said. “And if we have lots of rain in the spring it sets us up for that same situation.”

Grant money is still pending for three more levee districts in north Missouri.

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