The Corps of Engineers thinks the Missouri River levee system ‘s protection level is back to what it was before the 2011 flood.  Last year’s Missouri River flood was the longest-lasting  in recorded history, 145 days.  It overtopped or breached 157 levees, most of them privately-maintained, and caused millions of dollars damage. But the damage would have been worse without the levees and the upstream reservoirs that held back even more water.  “All the economists tells us $7.6 million dollars worth (of damage) was spared because of that system,” sys Colonel Tony Hoffman, the Corps’ district commander.  His Kansas City office oversees management of the river as it passes through Missouri.  His office has overseen the repairs and rebuilding of the levee system since the official end of the flood last October 17.  “Elven of those levees had breaches,” he says, “All eleven of those breach locations are back to the level of protection before the 2011 flood fight.”                                     

The federal government provides eighty percent funding  for districts built to federal standards that are maintained by private sponsors.  The districts raise the other twenty percent.  Hoffman says some districts have struggled to raise their shares.  He credits the state for providing community development block grants to those districts to help reach that match.  Without those grants, he says, some repair contracts might not be in place.  He says much still needs to be done to repair riverbanks and channel damage.  And that might take two or three years to finish.

This year’s Missouri River is far different and the reservoirs that held back billions of gallons of water that would have caused even more damage have kept enough water in the drought-stricken channel to maintain a full navigation season although some shallow areas in the first 100 miles of the river above the confluence with the Mississippi have caused some barge operators to break up tows or lighten some loads. In normal years, water flowing into the mainstem Missouri from its tributaries would have kept levels high enough to avoid those situations. This year, though, the tributary flow has been a fraction of normal. 

The Missouri might have operated at near-minimum flows for navigation, but its water has been critical  to the Mississippi. Hoffman says the Missouri’s water was vital to commerce further downstream. “I’ve seen reports where roughly sixty percent of the water in the Mississippi this year has been from the Missouri River,” he says.

Even with the Missouri’s water, levels in the Mississippi have been so low that dozens of barges have been forced from time to time to wait for the Mississippi to rise enough below St. Louis to let  traffic resume.

AUDIO: Hoffman interview 22:32