Water woes continue

UNDER the Ike Skelton Bridge, the scene tells a story being played out in several places along the Missouri River on Thursday evening. At left, the river continues to flow along the south side of the winding levee. On top of the levee, work crews are busy trying to keep the earthen levee intact. On the north side, flood water laps at the levee, washes out a farm road and covers acres of a field that cannot be planted. Clouds in the background suggest a potential for more rain in addition to upriver reservoirs releasing more water, with Gavins Point increasing from 55,000 cubic feet of water per second last week to 70,000 Thursday.

RICHMOND – Like people across other parts of the area, state and Midwest, Ray Countians cannot be blamed if they suffer from a bad case of “flood fatigue.”

The situation started with snow closing schools for several days during the winter and building up the ice pack to the north. Next came warming weather coupled with rains that melted the ice pack and began sending water flowing south. By mid-March, the swollen Missouri River and tributaries, including the Crooked River, began flooding.

Flooding caused people living in Craig and in several other communities along the way to evacuate, Interstate 29 north of St. Joseph closed due to flooding and southern Ray County farmland turned into small lakes.

Ray County’s situation would be worse, if not for the earthen levee system. But those levees have had river water pounding them for more than two months.

If they give way, if people become too fatigued to work to preserve them...

The levees and volunteers have not stopped working, including on Route J. The levee there holds back the Crooked River between Henrietta and Hardin.

The weather and Army Corps of Engineers are doing this area’s levees and residents no favors. The National Weather Service projects midweek thunderstorms, and the Corps announced Friday the release from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota and Nebraska would increase to 75,000 cubic feet of water per second, up from 60,000 cfw two weeks ago.

People are concerned. Sometimes without cause. A social media post suggested the levee at Missouri City failed, but that is not true, City Clerk Monte Railey said Friday. The city water table is up, a common occurrence for area river towns, but the water is being pumped to avoid backups, he said. 

Ray County Emergency Management Coordinator Carl Harper Jr. said people are worried.

“They definitely are,” he said.

Fatigued? Also definitely, Harper said.

“We need people desperately to come in and relieve them,” he said.

The same people cannot be expected to do everything, Harper said, with the another sandbagging operation set for Hardin City Hall at 8 a.m. Saturday.

“We’d like everybody to come out,” he said.

Young volunteers make a huge difference, but they are not the only ones, Harper said.

“It’s older people, too,” he said. “I cannot say enough. You can’t praise (everyone) enough.”

Crews working next to the Route J Bridge unloaded wooden planks meant to bolster the ability of the Ray-Lafayette Levee to contain flood water, district President Max Hockemeier said. He stood at the site Thursday in anticipation of the next high-water mark.

“It should be cresting this weekend,” he said.

On Wednesday, workers drove wooden stakes along hundreds of yards on the east side of the levee. They then began attaching plywood planks – 18 inches wide and 8 feet long – to the stakes, Hockemeier said. The work continued Thursday and Friday, with more stakes and more boards going up along the Missouri River levee, he said.

Under the Ike Skelton Bridge on Highway 13, workers pounded stakes into the Missouri River levee in anticipation of erecting planks followed by sandbagging over the weekend.

“They’ve put in three to five miles,” Hockemeier said. 

Erecting the “Great Wall” is part one of a two-part approach, he said.

“Later, we’ll ... back those (planks) up with sandbags,” Hockemeier said. “That will give us another 18 inches of height on the levee.”

Wooden barricades are not used often because the water does not always rise so fast, he said.

“This is a very quick way to get it done,” Hockemeier said. “Filling sandbags is very time-consuming, labor-consuming, and so this will get a lot of the levee done in a short amount of time.”

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