Waters from the Missouri River will regularly flood the Capital City unless steps are taken to mitigate the risk of future floods, a contingent of local officials and businessmen said Thursday.
State Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, recently launched efforts to mitigate future flooding in the Capital City, specifically targeting Wears Creek.
At the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, area elected officials, as well as local business owners, began talking Thursday about how to better manage Wears Creek.
When the Missouri River gets to 25 feet and above in Jefferson City, which is considered moderate flooding, Wears Creek begins to come out of its banks in the Millbottom area from the Missouri backwater. When the flooding begins, state parking lots are frequently among the first to be affected.
This year, from late May through much of July, not only were the parking lots inundated, but streets in the area also flooded, leading to traffic having to be diverted and state workers having to be bused from other locations in town to their jobs at the Jefferson and Truman buildings.
"I have many state workers who I represent, and I saw how this affected their lives and how they had to rearrange their schedules just to get to work," Griffith said. "I've lived here a number of years and been through a number of floods, and it seems like every time that there is a lot of conversations about what we can do to prevent these from happening again — but they are short lived."
Griffith said he and Jefferson City Councilmember Rick Mihalevich recently talked with officials at the State Emergency Management Agency about potential solutions, but nothing came out of the meeting.
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Chamber President Randy Allen on Thursday said plans were put forth in the late 1990s and early 2000s that called for flood gates and pumps around the area where the Missouri River and Wears Creek meet. The cost was as much as $76 million, at that time, but the plans were put aside after the state moved facilities such as the state health lab out of the downtown area.
According to information provided Thursday by John Grothaus with the Corps of Engineers office in Kansas City, a reconnaissance study was done in 2003 that recommended a feasibility study be conducted for flood risk, along with habitat restoration measures, on Wears Creek.
Grothaus said Jefferson City at that time declined to move forward into the cost shared feasibility study phase. He added it could still be done, but such a study would need to take into account new requirements that have been instituted since 2003.
Grothaus also provided information about what some tabbed as a "super levee" that had been proposed in the early 2000s after the floods of '93 and '95.
The 5-mile-long levee would have been located along the northern front of the river. It would have been 43.9 feet, 13.9 feet taller than the 30-foot Capital View Levee that sits in that area and 5.3 feet taller than the crest of the '93 flood, which was more than 38 feet.
The levee was projected to cost $26 million, with 35 percent of those funds coming from a local sponsor and the other 65 percent coming from the federal government.
Grothaus said the plans were 95 percent complete when they stopped in 2002 because no local sponsor could be found who would pay the money, as well as agree to do the upkeep on the levee. He said it could still be done if a local sponsor could be found. However, he said, it would also require a re-examination of the plans to see whether it would meet the specifications now required.
There is a study that will be done on the lower Missouri River that Grothaus said aims to look at lowering exposure to flooding along the river in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, and the Corps appears to have support from those states to help with the estimated $5 million cost.
While it will likely take four years to complete, Grothaus said, there are possibilities for problems, once they are identified, to be fixed before the study is completed. They'll be looking at structural and non-structural options for flood risk, including possibly modifying existing levees and/or the river channel.
Corps officials said Thursday that their inspection teams finished their checks on Capital View Levee, and they were confident it would qualify for help for repairs. The official word should come in about 20 days.
Floodwaters breached Capital View around May 24. The levee, which can hold to about 30 feet, sustained five or six large breaches, with the largest one being about 1,000 feet long. The breaches caused flooding at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport and throughout North Jefferson City.
Danny Baumgartner, owner of Turkey Creek Golf Course, and Callaway County Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer said actions need to take place sooner rather than later. They suggested raising the height of the Capital View Levee to 35 or 36 feet.
"I think it's insane to just repair the levees where they are now and not look at potential moves or additions," Fisher said. "I think we have a limited window of time to work in because while the current administration in Washington is in favor of river projects, that may not happen if a new administration comes in."
Baumgartner added: "There's the potential for more businesses to come in if there were some type of protection in the river bottom area."
Griffith said flood mitigation efforts must continue.
"Whatever the solution is, it's going to take money," he said. "I just want to make sure we exhaust looking at all possible options before we say we can't do anything."
As of Thursday, the Missouri River in Jefferson City was at 18.4 feet. The forecast from the National Weather Service in St. Louis predicted the river would stay around that level through next week.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials reported this week that widespread and heavy rainfall in the upper Missouri River basin (above Sioux City, Iowa) resulted in another month of above average runoff into the Missouri River. Areas of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska received two to three times normal precipitation during July.
This, along with some heavy rainfall events along the Missouri/Kansas border in recent weeks, have led the Corps to keep releases from Gavins Point Dam, the southern most dam on the Missouri system in South Dakota, at 70,000 cubic feet per second, which is nearly twice the average release for this time of the year. This is being done to evacuate water from Corps reservoirs.