No. 5: Missouri and Mississippi River Floods

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had a busy year. It has been filled with tough choices when it comes to managing and diverting dangerous amounts of destructive floodwater. This year, levees were blown up and dam floodgates and spillways were opened.

Missouri River:

  • Nearly a year’s worth of rain fell in the area over the Missouri River basin in the end of May alone.
  • In June, all six of the major dams along the Missouri River released record amounts of water to try to alleviate damage caused by the excess water from the record snowfall and snowmelt in the winter and spring.
  • Levees were raised as well as breached in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota, flooding the river basin.
  • Bridges were closed for 100 miles between Omaha and Kansas City.
  • The Garrison Dam released record amounts of water into its spillway to divert floodwaters beginning in early June.
  • The Souris River broke record flood stage levels on June 24 in Minot at 9.5 feet above flood stage with waters flowing over the levees.
  • More than one-quarter of the population of Minot have been displaced, and are bracing for a tough winter.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced plans to change its approach to floodwater management in 2012, hoping to avoid such devastating conditions by releasing water earlier in the season.

On one sunny note, some of the river flooding might help restore some of the surrounding natural wetlands and even support endangered wildlife.

Mississippi River:

  • April: Heavy rains and snowmelt cause Mississippi River levels to rise.
  • Early May: Flooding begins in Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
  • May 3: The Missouri River is levee blown up by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the town of Cairo, Illinois, from destruction. The consequence is the flooding of nearby countryside along with the loss of homes, crops, and fields.
  • May 6: Historic river levels are recorded in Memphis.
  • May 11: The Mississippi River reaches an all-time record crest in Natchez, Miss., 135 miles north of New Orleans.
  • May 14: Army Corps of Engineers opens the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana to divert floodwaters away from New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Long-term effects
Frank Heitmuller, a geography professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, explained that the floodwaters could help in some cases to restore wetland environments, but that the nation should re-evaluate the placement of levees and spillways in order to make them more beneficial. He suggests studying low-lying countries such as the Netherlands to learn how to avoid sediment buildup, which can cause levee failure.

The cost of the Mississippi floods totaled over $4 billion.

Relief efforts:

Becky Uline is an editor and musician living in San Francisco, where she enjoys digging into Yahoo! data as a sidekick to trend-finding sleuth Vera H-C Chan. Most of her writing is of the musical variety for her band, the Northerlies.