Farmers watch swollen river and seep water as Corps releases more water

Thursday, June 23, 2011
Even though this farm field in the Miami river bottoms was sprayed, fertilized and worked, seep water from the swollen Missouri River kept the farmer from finishing planting. As the water continues to rise, so will the seep water, most likely drowning out the soybeans already planted.

Sitting at flood stage for almost a month now, farmers and landowners in the Missouri River bottoms of Saline County continue to get more seep water behind the levees, as they wait for new record releases from Gavin's Point dam to reach the area.

"We're in the initial phases of the ditches filling," said local farmer Mendell Elson, who is a board member of the Miami Levee District No.1. "There were already several hundred acres that we were unable to get planted because the ground has either got water on it or the ground water table is so saturated."

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday evening they would be increasing the flow from the dam to 160,000 cubic feet per second on Thursday. According to officials, that translates into another foot of flood water to an already overflowing river.

Farmers in the Miami river bottoms are constantly on the watch as the swollen Missouri River (pictured) rises to 24.5 feet there. Flood stage is 18 feet. A levee now protects the nearby farmland, although as the water rises, so does seep water on the other side of the levee.

Farmers here feel for those those who have already seen levees break upstream including some in Atchison and Holt counties. But so far it has kept Saline County from seeing some of the river depths the Corps initially predicted, as the water backfills into those areas.

"I am very sympathic and concerned about the people above us, because I don't want anybody's levee to fail," said Elson. "But the failure up above has relieved a little bit of the initial sting."

With the water at 23 feet right now at Miami (18 feet is flood stage) Elson said the water is now sitting at the bottom of the levee. Right now the Corps is forecasting depths over 27 feet starting this weekend, which still shouldn't overtop levees.

Water rolls across a corn field in the Missouri river bottoms near Miami. The water is coming from seeps which are boiling up because the river is above flood stage. Although much of the ground will be drowned out by the seeps, the farmers are working to make sure the levee holds. If a levee breaks, the damage to the farm ground can last forever.

However, the longer water sits above flood stage, the more the area is saturated, and the seep water behind the levee eventually drowns out crops.

Last year, Elson said the river was above flood stage for 78 consecutive days and set a record for the fourth higher crest since the 1950s at 28.5 feet.

The seep water resulting from the long period of high water last year heavily damaged his and other bottomland crops, with some fields drowning out completely while others had very low yields.

Right now the Corps is predicting this current flood to last through August.

While the farmers, may not be able to do anything about the seep water, which will get worse as the river gets high and stays high, they are hoping to keep their levees from breaking completely.

"Very close to the river, the way it sounds there won't be a crop," said Kelly Thorp of the Saline Lafayette Levee District. "We just want to protect the rest of it."

One of their main concerns right now is to watch for "critters," such as groundhogs, coyotes and skunks among others, who dig dens into the levees. Those places can easily "soak up" and become a soft spot, causing the levees to push out and eventually break.

Elson said they are checking often and encourages other levee districts to do the same.

"The longer the water is high the more digging activity we see," he said, adding they have seen that same problem each year. On the Miami levee, they originally fixed up to 50 holes in an 8-mile stretch, and then returned just a few days later to find 15 new holes. "We're finding badger holes up to five foot deep burrowed into the side of the levee."

Although they aren't currently filling sandbags, some of the levee districts are bringing in extra sand.

"We're stockpiling sand, because they are starting to get short. If the river gets up too high, you can't get it, and apparently they are going to run out," said Thorpe.

Contact Marcia Gorrell at

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: