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story.lead_photo.caption The North Jefferson City Recreation Area was still underwater in June 2019 while the Missouri River was in major flood stage. The Missouri River at Jefferson City was in flood stage for 53 days in 2019 from May 21 to July 13. Photo by Quinn Wilson / News Tribune.

From May 21 to July 13, the Missouri River at Jefferson City left its banks behind.

The 53-day flood was among the most damaging in Callaway County history, featuring the river's fourth highest recorded crest.

The flooding brought devastating losses along southern Callaway County. On Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson announced FEMA had agreed to consider adding Callaway and 20 other Missouri counties to President Donald Trump's July 9 disaster declaration. Callaway County was previously only able to be assessed by FEMA from helicopter because much of the area was still underwater.

For many along the river bottoms, the effects of this year's flood echo the Flood of 1993, which reached its crest at a record 38.65 feet July 30 of that year.

"After '93 it was amazing what it looked like, and this is super reminiscent of that," said José Cruz, president of the Wainwright Levee District, local farmer and owner of United Country Real Estate.

Cruz has farmed in river bottoms his entire life. He experienced the Flood of 1993 firsthand. At the time, he was farming along the Mississippi River at Ste. Genevieve as well as the Missouri River along the St. Charles bottoms and in the Jefferson City area.

He purchased his farm in Callaway County in 2001 and has been farming with his son and his family ever since.

Kelly Burre has been in Callaway County his entire life and is the owner of farm supply store W A Rootes & Co. in Tebbetts. Cruz and Burre consider themselves some of the lucky ones during this flood.

"Our levee was topped, but we were fortunate to not have it breached," Cruz said.

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Cruz explained how his experience with flooding and the construction equipment he owns give him an advantage other farmers may not have.

Burre is thankful for Tebbetts' high location in relation to the river. While the Tebbetts levee was breached, the town was not directly impacted by flood damage.

However, even as the lucky ones, they are still paying the price from the impact of this year's flooding.

"In all of the land we farm, we are not planting 1 acre this year. Out of 1,100 acres we farm, we will have no crops planted. Zero," Cruz said.

The timing of this year's flooding affected the crop season heavily around the river bottoms. Burre estimated only about 40 percent of total crops were planted this year on farms in the county.

Cruz, like many others along the Missouri River bottoms in Callaway County, produces corn and soybeans. He explained that when a levee is topped or breached, the current will bring a substantial amount of sand onto farmland. He estimated there are 8-10 feet of sand on his properties alone.

"The problem with a lot of these areas is that the ground is good and productive, yet was already sandy," Cruz explained. "When incorporating more sand, the farmers have to physically move that much sand off of their field before you ever start. The fields will literally look like a desert. It looks like a wasteland."

Even though Burre is not currently a farmer, the impact on his business has been enormous. Cruz said because farmers in the county only planted about half of their crops this year, the remaining seeds have been returned to businesses like Burre's, as have unused fertilizers and pesticides.

"(Burre's) business relies on us farmers taking crops to market. (Farmers) have no product to market until fall of 2020 — no matter what," Cruz said.

Cruz and Burre emphasized the systemic impact the flooding has had on their economy and how widespread the impact is.

"That's what I'm trying to get people to understand: We as farmers have lost the crop. But the impact on people like (Burre) is tremendous and the impact on his suppliers is tremendous," Cruz said. "Nobody can fathom the millions of dollars lost to just this one small element."

Both believe measures to prevent future flooding are needed. As Cruz compared this year's flood to the Flood of 1993, he couldn't forget that another historic flood is possibly on the horizon.

"While still recovering from '93, we had another flood in '95. We have an opportunity here to get the levees back in place before next year," Cruz said.

Cruz is a proponent for a change in river management along the upper Missouri River basin.

"I still contend that if a lot of these reservoirs were held down lower, they can absorb more water discharge at a reduced rate."

Cruz and Burre initially believed they had this year's flood beat with their current levee system.

"Just a little bit more flood control up north would have allowed our levees to work," Burre said.

Cruz gave his praises to the river management along the lower Missouri River basin as he felt the state's dams minimized their impact on the destruction.

"This is one instance where the boys down at Bagnell Dam and Truman Dam did their job. They held Truman to a record high, I think 33 feet, it was almost coming over. They did not discharge," Cruz said.

Calls for a change have been heard throughout the region. At a meeting Wednesday in North Jefferson City at Capital Bluffs Event Center, area stakeholders gave their blessings for local officials to proceed with conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"It'd be a damn shame to keep it the way it is," said local farmer David Boessem, who is the president of the Capitol View Levee District.

The Corps is working to go get congressional approval to conduct a lower Missouri River basin study in Jefferson City after they contended a new system needed to be implemented throughout the region.

"Right now, with the historic flooding that we've had, there are more people interested in trying to get this corrected than I have been aware of in my lifetime," Callaway County Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer said.

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