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Farmers keep a wary eye on the Mighty Missouri river

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saline County farmers and levee district members along the Missouri River are bracing for a record water release upstream at Gavins Point.

The Army Corps of Engineers has warned that the release of water is expected to reach a peak of 150,000 cubic feet per second around June 14. They predict that it could cause river levels as high or near the 1993 flood levels. According to Corps predictions it could take up to six days for the crest to hit Saline County.

"We have sandbags and sand on hand," said Jammie Stephens of the Cole Lake Levee district between Malta Bend and Grand Pass.

However, Stephens and other farmers aren't sandbagging yet, instead they have mowed the levees and are riding and walking levees in order to watch for low spots, as well as places where animals dig in and cause damage.

"We're just going to wait and see what they forecast and what we need to do," said Don Malter of the Van Meter-Teteseau levee district.

Some farmers have started to move out equipment "at a leisurely pace," and homeowners have moved some items up from basements in case the worst case scenario comes true and the levees are overtopped, said Kelly Thorp of the Saline-Lafayette levee district.

The "wildcard" according to the farmers is whether or not there is rainfall here or upstream before the release reaches record levels.

Jim Backes of the Malta Bend levee district also has a private levee located on land he farms before the main levee.

"We start on it first," he said, explaining what they will do if the predicted flooding occurs. "We think we can hold 28 feet with a lot of bagging," he said. In the 1993 flood, the main levee at Malta Bend was topped at around 32 feet.

In the Miami Levee District #1, board member Mendell Elson said they started an effort in 2007 to alleviate the time they spend sandbagging low spots. The district spent more than $250,000 and used the latest precision technology to find the low places in their levee and fix those. Now he said the entire levee should be able to withstand up to a 33 foot river crest. In 1993, the level at Miami reached 32.6 feet, he said.

The Corps stipulates the maximum height of the levees located along the river.

For now, river bottom farmers in Saline County are just watching and waiting, hoping their levees will be able to hold back the apparently inevitable floodwaters.

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