Debating the levee three years later

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three years ago, Southeast Missouri, specifically those living in Mississippi and New Madrid counties, experienced the biggest local natural disaster of a generation.

The great flood of 2011 was an epic that played out in real time, as the region followed by the minute the decision to blow a levee and intentionally flood 130,000 acres of farmland, including several homes. Finally, the decision was made that May to detonate Birds Point levee. It was the first time that had happened since 1937.

Three years after the most recent breach, the people who live on the land are still questioning the decision. Many believe a different system should be used. Jason Smith, U.S. Representative of Missouri's 8th District, suggested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers institute an overtopping method, rather than a detonation. The overtopping method would have a less dramatic impact on the land, limiting the speed of rushing water.

However, a spokesperson for the corps' Memphis District, pointed out that method would not give the corps the necessary drop in the river levels that the corps would need to protect other levees.

Both men seem to have valid points.

It's important to remember that the corps' plan worked well. The intentional breach took a lot of pressure off levees (not just at Cairo) very quickly. It's also important for the corps to consider that it is a government entity that must answer to the people.

The corps should resist relying on a plan just because it worked as designed and consider other options that could protect people's property. If there is a better way to control the river without having to use explosives to blow three holes in levees, the corps owes it to the property owners to explore the costs and benefits of doing just that.

The levee was rebuilt to its full height of 62.5 feet about a year ago. Let's hope the levee stays intact for a very long time.

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