U.S. Army Corps of Engineers | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Dikes on the Mississippi River
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Environmental organizations in Missouri and Illinois have filed a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that dikes and other structures the agency has built in the Mississippi River have caused major damage to the environment. 

The federal agency has been working on a project that uses dikes and other barriers to maintain a 9-foot-deep channel that allows barges to transport grain and other goods on the Mississippi River. But environmentalists cite research that has shown that the structures can constrict the river, causing water to flow higher and faster during floods.

Near-record precipitation last year has set the stage for renewed flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries, according to a forecast released Thursday.

In 2019, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries raged through towns and farms for months.  Forecaster Kevin Low at the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center said this year could be just as bad.

Trees along Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard are seen surrounded by rising water on Tuesday as the Mississippi River reaches a near-record height.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Andrea Mcmanus and her three children had lived in their apartment in Grafton for less than six months before they evacuated to escape the rising Mississippi River floodwaters.

They left on March 22, as the flood overtook Grafton and began rising downstream in St. Louis. The Mississippi has been above flood stage at St. Louis for more than 80 days and last weekend surpassed the 1973 level, the second highest on record.

Many residents, government officials and scientists compare it to the Great Flood of 1993, when the river crested at 49.6 feet, the highest flood on record for the St. Louis region. Some residents worry that it could surpass that height.

Roger Ideker's farm in St. Joseph, Mo. during the 2011 Missouri River flood. Ideker is the lead plaintiff in the suit against the corps.
Ideker Farms

U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop focusing on protecting wildlife in the Missouri River and instead focus on flood control and navigation, a move that environmentalists are calling misguided.

In 2004, the Corps of Engineers changed its management strategy for the Missouri River to protect two endangered species of birds and one fish, the pallid sturgeon. However, landowners near the river have alleged that prioritizing wildlife over flood protection has caused them extensive property damage from major floods.

A MSD worker about to plug a manhole in north St. Louis ahead of moderate river flooding in March 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

As the Mississippi River continues to rise, utilities and government agencies in the St. Louis region are taking steps to protect sewers, levees and other facilities that could be affected by moderate flooding.

Above-average snowmelt and rainfall from northern parts of the Midwest have caused river levels to rise in the St. Louis region. The National Weather Service reported Thursday that the river at St. Louis is at 34.8 feet. Meteorologists expect the river to crest at 36.3 feet by late Wednesday.

In anticipation of moderate flooding, which occurs at 35 feet, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District plugged two manholes in St. Louis, in north and south St. Louis.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with removing the radioactive waste from the downtown St. Louis site, which includes the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals plant.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is close to finishing its removal of World War II-era radioactive waste from the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals plant in downtown St. Louis.

Uranium, radium and thorium leached into the land around the plant during the 1940s and 50s when Mallinckrodt Chemical Works manufactured uranium to create atomic bombs for the Manhattan Project. The Corps of Engineers has been removing the contaminated soil since 1998.

Six decades ago, the uranium processors simply dumped waste down the drain, said Susan Adams, the project engineer for the clean-up efforts at the site.

The Great Flood of '93 swept blankets of sand onto a Missouri River flood plain near Berger, Missouri.
Provided by Bob Holmes

Scientists who have studied the historic 1993 flood agree that a similar event could strike the St. Louis region again. But they disagree on how likely it could occur.

A levee near Wood River in November 2015.
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

State and federal officials in Illinois will use a $95.2 million grant to stabilize levees that protect Metro East communities.

The St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers and local levee districts have been trying over the last decade to prevent water from seeping under and behind the five levees that protect Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties in Illinois. Scientists expect flood risks along the Mississippi River to rise due to climate change and hard structures, such as levees, that push water to surrounding communities.

The Corps of Engineers and local levee district officials recently restored the levees’ ability to protect against 100-year floods, which have a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. The latest federal investment through the Water Resources Development Act will strengthen the levee system to the 500-year level, which protects against floods that have a 0.2 percent chance of happening in any given year.

The Clarence Cannon Wildlife Refuge in Annada, Mo.
Randall Hyman

About 70 miles north of St. Louis, a serene, 3,750-acre area covered in prairie grasses, forests and wetlands serves as a crucial habitat for migratory birds.

The Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Annada sits next to the Mississippi River, surrounded by farmland. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a $29-million project to improve wildlife habitats in the refuge.

The agencies aim to bring back historic flood cycles that support native plants. They provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife.

A pond at the Audubon Center at Riverlands.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to launch a long-term study this month to study birds and bats near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

The Corps of Engineers' biologists want to track the populations of birds and bats that live on islands in the river and study what habitat conditions best support them.

A wide variety of species is a sign of a healthy ecosystem, said Lane Richter, a Corps of Engineers ecologist. Plant and animal life have declined along the Mississippi River due to dams, levees and other manmade structures that degrade wetlands and other crucial habitats. Studies have also shown that climate change has caused many North American bird species to decline.

Black River near Annapolis, Mo.
National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of withholding information on mining and other development projects that could damage wetlands. 

The environmental group filed suit against the Corps of Engineers in late March, alleging that the agency denied it access to permits and documents that relate to mining and other types of projects. The suit claims that the Corps of Engineers' St. Louis and Little Rock districts have repeatedly refused to release documents, such as permit applications, using an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act.

More than a hundred showed up to the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers' annual meeting in February 2018 to update the public on efforts to remediate legacy nuclear waste along Coldwater Creek.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday delivered an update on its ongoing work to clean up radioactive waste along Coldwater Creek, it was to a packed room. More than 100 people attended the meeting; some attendees only recently learned about the radioactive waste after watching the HBO documentary, "Atomic Homefront," which began airing last week.

The film documents the struggle of north St. Louis County residents who live near areas illegally dumped with World War II-era nuclear waste, particularly the West Lake Landfill Superfund site. While many attendees in the room had known about the waste for several years, some were stunned to learn about it from the documentary.

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Meramec River is expected to crest at 40 feet on Wednesday, posing a threat to low-lying communities, including Valley Park, Eureka, Fenton and Kirkwood. 

As water levels rise along the same communities that were badly impacted by flooding in early 2016, some local environmentalists say that levees are responsible for the severe floods residents in the St. Louis area have experienced in recent years.

St. Cin Park in Hazelwood. The park is staying open during the clean-up, but the Corps is monitoring the air and water for contamination.
Mike Petersen | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District

The Army Corps of Engineers this month is preparing to remove radioactive soils from residential properties along Coldwater Creek for the first time. 

The Corps' St. Louis District found the contamination in yards on Palm Drive in Hazelwood in the summer of 2015. The planned remediation work, which officials expect to complete this fall, will affect five houses, one apartment complex and a Metropolitan Sewer District property. All are located within the 10-year floodplain.

U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner and Lacy Clay on Wednesday continued to press for the Environmental Protection Agency to transfer jurisdiction of the West Lake Superfund site in Bridgeton to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Residents and area activists, dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency's handling of the site, have been waiting for Congress to pass a bill to put the nuclear waste in more capable hands. Despite how easily the bill passed the U.S. Senate, it is at a standstill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wagner, R-Ballwin, and Clay, D-University City, sponsored the proposed legislation that would put responsibility for removing the World War II-era waste under the Corps' cleanup program, known as FUSRAP.

A cautionary sign at a fence around the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, which contains World War II-era nuclear waste.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

 

Transferring authority for the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not speed up removal of radioactive waste from the site, a corps official told federal lawmakers recently.

This photo of Coldwater Creek flooding was taken from the Dunn Road bridge on Monday.
Paul A. Huddleston

A north St. Louis County park is now clean of radioactive material from the nearby contaminated Coldwater Creek, now that remediation by the Army Corps of Engineers is complete. 

barge shipping, Mississippi River
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

A barge and transportation industry group is sharply criticizing the president’s budget request for river infrastructure and upkeep.

Waterways Council Inc. called President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps the "most disappointing to date." The budget proposes $4.6 billion for the Corps’ civil works program, nearly 30 percent less than the current appropriation by Congress.

The historic Opera House of Pacific sits among dozens of other homes and business on the south side of the city flooded by the Meramec River. Longtime residents say this is the worst flooding they’ve ever seen.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 9:57 a.m.  - More than a dozen people have died as a result of historic flooding throughout Missouri. And the state isn’t out of the woods just yet.

In a briefing with local officials in Franklin County, Gov. Jay Nixon said that 14 people have died as a result of flooding. Most of the deaths occurred after people tried to drive through floodwater.

“If we could say anything over and over and over – it’s don’t drive into water,” Nixon said.

Photograph courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / St. Louis District

Two years after the Great Flood of 1927 devastated the lower Mississippi River Valley, blues singers Kansas Joe McCoy and Lizzie “Memphis Minnie” Douglas shared the pain in their classic “When The Levee Breaks:”

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break

And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay ...

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

Flooding along the upper Mississippi River is affecting navigation, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"High river levels have forced us to close two of our locks and dams. Lock and Dam 24 and 25 are both closed right now," said Mike Peterson, chief of public affairs.

"But there’s not a lot of river navigation going on along the upper river right now because upstream of us there is a whole lot of closed locks and dams."

Flood crests on the Mississippi are expected over the next week, but Peterson is not expecting much higher levels.

(Flickr/The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Mississippi River, one of the hallmarks of American landscape, is no longer the expansive, grand river it once was. Decades of constructing levees, dams and other systems for managing floods have whittled it down to a series of pools, dramatically altering its ecosystem. 

Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, St. Louis Public Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is contracting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a fire break to keep an underground fire from reaching radioactive waste at the landfill complex in Bridgeton.

Nora Ibrahim/St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are talking about what’s best for the Bridgeton landfill and the World War II-era radioactive material stored at the neighboring West Lake landfill.

So says U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who was among four Missouri members of Congress – two Republicans and two Democrats – who cosigned a recent letter asking the EPA to work with the Corps, which previously dealt with similar radioactive sites elsewhere in the St. Louis area.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

Every winter, hundreds of trumpeter swans migrate from their breeding grounds in Wisconsin to the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, just across the Mississippi River from Alton.

This year there are about 900 of them, a record for our area.

On a recent cold, blustery St. Louis morning, I got up well before dawn to drive the 20 miles north to the sanctuary and record this audio postcard.

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

Upgrading the Metro East’s aging levees is finally on Washington’s radar, according to officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Yet they warn that the push for more federal funding must continue if the Corps hopes to bring the levees back to 500 year flood protection standards by 2021. That's the Corps’ latest projection for completing the work.

(Véronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding open houses Wednesday and Thursday evenings to discuss federal levee projects in the Metro East.

The Corps says it’s spent $134 million in federal money for upgrading the levees and more projects are underway.

Yet some in the Metro East worry the Corps may not move fast enough.

(Chris McDaniel/St. Louis Public Radio)

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:

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 14, 2013 - WASHINGTON – With federal funds shrinking but river commerce rising, Illinois lawmakers want to jump-start major infrastructure projects – such as rebuilding key locks and dams on the Mississippi River – by allowing public-private partnerships.

The Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act, to be introduced Thursday by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would set up a pilot program for potential agreements between the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities as alternatives to traditional modes of financing, design, and construction.

Report: 2011 Flood "Exposed Vulnerabilities" On Mississippi River

Feb 25, 2013

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the near-historic Mississippi River flood of 2011 caused $2.8 billion in damage and tested the system of levees, reservoirs and floodways like no other flood before it.

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