The Army Corps of Engineers says it will begin notifying communities along the Mississippi River this month whether damage from last year’s historic flood poses a further threat should the river reach flood levels again this year.
The corps has been doing assessments in recent months of damages to levees, structures and navigation channels, said spokesman Bob Anderson in the agency’s Vicksburg Division.
Scott Whitney, regional flood risk manager for the corps’ Mississippi Valley Division, said each damaged location found in the assessment has been characterized by its likelihood of failure and potential consequences if there is a failure. The corps will use a web-based application called CorpsMap and information papers to send out the information to communities and residents, he said.
The river reached flood levels in December in some places below Cairo, Ill. “We’ve got a potential for another crest on the lower river the first week of February,” Anderson added.
The corps is working as if preparing for a flood, according to the spokesman. Some of that repair work has been slowed by high water and sustained rains. Rising waters have made the assessment work difficult as well, the spokesman said.
The biggest repair tackled in recent months was to breaks in Missouri’s Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway that the corps created with detonations last May to relieve Cairo and other towns threatened with massive flooding where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet. Work so far has the floodway at 55.5 feet. “It still needs to be built to 62.5 feet,” Anderson said.
He said with the river set to crest at 43 feet in Cairo soon, work has had to be put on hold. “We hope to get back in there in late April or early May.”
Some repairs have also been made to levees north of Vicksburg. “Work is nearly 80 percent complete” on those, Anderson said, though he noted “high water kind of slowed the progress.”
That work, according to Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board in Greenville, involved erecting seepage berms at Albemarle and at the Buck Shoot levee in Warren County.
The Warren County work involves repairs to a wall 1,700 feet in length and building of a 240-foot wide berm. Workers “also put 30 relief wells beyond the berm,” Nimrod said. The berm will slow down seepage from the river and the wells will allow water to come through “in a controlled manner” and free of destructive materials, the levee engineer said.
“Right before the water came up two weeks ago they were able to get this done,” Nimrod added.
At the Albemarle levee, the levee slid on the landside. “The corps has started building a 150-foot wide and 550-foot long seepage berm,” Nimrod said. “The work was 50 percent done when the high water came up and cut their access off.”
More relief wells are also going in in the Bolivar County community of Francis and in Washington County’s Winterville just north of Greenville, according to Nimrod.
The relief wells are designed to lessen the frequency and damage from sand boils that occur as water from the river flows beneath the levees and springs up on the landside, he said.
“We’re in a little better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” he said of the 212 miles of levees the Mississippi Levee Board oversees.
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