Corps of Engineers works to shore up floodway levee before river rises

Friday, June 24, 2011
Water flows over a section of levee near New Madrid, Mo., after it was intentionally breached on Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- Now at the one-week mark since rebuilding began on the Birds Point-New Madrid levee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working quickly to construct a berm to a section of the levee to ensure the floodway doesn't take on water during a rise of the Mississippi River forecast for this weekend.

The corps' Memphis district spokesman Jim Pogue said Thursday crews should have a temporary berm in place by this morning at the latest in Inflow-Outflow Crevasse No. 1, the midpoint of the levee breach and the last location detonated. Pogue said the crevasse is the only one for now that needs extra height.

According to the National Weather Service River Flood Forecast Center, the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill., will crest at 41.5 feet on Sunday, resulting in minor flooding south along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau is predicted to continue falling from its Wednesday crest of 38.4 feet, more than six feet above flood stage.

The berm construction is the corps' quick response to a rapid rise and fall of the river, but shouldn't be a setback to the schedule for completing the levee by March 1, 2012. Pogue said the corps wants to finish interim fixes like the berm as quickly as possible to give Mississippi County farmers confidence and future ability to get a crop out of the floodway.

After the river level falls next week, work will continue on the middle crevasse. Pogue said plans are now also underway to begin work on the detonated locations in the north and south.

Earlier this month, the corps and the National Weather Service said local water levels would stay high throughout the summer as long as there were no significant rain amounts to the north. Last week near Hannibal, Mo., between two and three inches of rain caused a six-foot rise on the Mississippi River within days. Recent rains have also pushed up levels on the swollen Missouri River, which empties into the Mississippi.

In St. Louis, however, the threat seems to be lifting. The latest National Weather Service prediction has the river at St. Louis falling below flood stage by Monday.

eragan@semissourian.com

243-6635

Pertinent address:

New Madrid, MO

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