Damaged Iowa Levees Won’t be Fixed by Spring

December 23, 2008

Damaged levees will stand between Iowa homes and farm fields this spring because of a delay in repairs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had estimated that the flood-damaged levees certified by the corps would be fixed by year’s end, but they’re not even close.

Among the delays are a lack of crews, early winter weather, delayed requests from municipalities and in at least one instance in Oakville, the discovery of American Indian artifacts.

Corps spokesman Ron Fournier said only three of the 38 levees and other flood-protection projects requested by Iowa, Illinois and Missouri are done. A dozen Iowa projects are among those unfinished.

“There have been some hiccups,” Fournier said.

Even though some factors were out of the corps’ control, David Miller, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, said he’s disappointed.

“We are always a little concerned when there are delays in getting the projects done,” Miller said. “However, we are fairly certain the most critical work will be in place before things really get started this spring.”

He added that his division will be ready with sandbags and other reinforcements if floods threaten the unfinished corps levees in the spring.

Fournier said some of the corps’ work will spill into late spring or summer, with several projects expected to be finished yet this winter.

There are hundreds of other levees that aren’t maintained by the corps, and Miller said he’s unaware of their status. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has no comprehensive programs to inspect those levees, built by cities, counties and local levee districts. DNR Director Richard Leopold has vowed to seek money to start an inspection program.

When it comes to much of the Iowa work, the corps hasn’t yet awarded contracts because money isn’t available or because the projects rank below others in the corps’ priorities.

For example, work remains in Des Moines, Ottumwa, Keokuk, Marshalltown, Evansdale, Elkader and Cascade. Officials said that in many cases, the levees are eroded, not breached, and the work needed includes trucking in material to fix sections of the levee.

All actual levee breaches in Iowa have been fixed except at Oakville, where crews are bolstering a temporary level to buy time for a new levee project, said Steve Russell, who is coordinating the work for the corps.

He said that while a range of levees still have deep scars and sloughing from record and near-record flooding last summer, they should hold back potential floods in spring. However, there are no guarantees.

“If we get a flood like we just had, even the levees we fixed may fail,” Russell said. “Otherwise, we should be OK.”


On the Net:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: http://www.usace.army.mil/


Information from: The Des Moines Register,

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