River bottom farmers continue to monitor Missouri River level

Friday, July 1, 2011
At the Missouri River bottoms near Miami on Thursday, June 30, water at the Miami Levee District No. 1 was rising. The peak is expected on Saturday, July 2, according to the latest predictions by the Army Corps of Engineers.

With water already higher than predictions, farmers in area levee districts are watching a rising Missouri River closely.

"We're waiting for a new forecast," said Kelly Thorp of Saline-Lafayette Levee District on Friday morning, July 1. "It's higher now than the projected high."

The projected high was 29.2 inches, but this morning he said the river was already at 29.3 feet.

Right now, he said they are still confident they can keep the water from overtopping the levee--as long as it doesn't climb more than a foot higher.

"We're going to be touching some bags in another six inches or so," he said, adding, however, that would just be "the first layer of bags" already placed in low spots.

On a private levee near Malta Bend, they sandbagged on Friday morning.

"We're bagging it now," said Jim Backes, who owns the land behind the levee. For now, though, he said they didn't need any additional help, since the water was rising very slowly.

"We're going to wait and see now," he said. "This is supposed to be as high as it's getting, but that's subject to change."

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be flying a helicopter in the area as soon as Saturday morning, according to Tom Waters, president of the Missouri River and Levee Association.

"They fly the levees, and they are looking for sand boils and bad places, and things they think need to be taken care of," said Waters, a farmer in the Orrick river bottoms. He said they were able to tell his levee district yesterday about holes caused by animals burrowing into the ground. "They can see them in the air better than we can see on 4-Wheelers."

He said they are also able to see "sand boils" or places where the water is coming through beneath the levee.

"That's been a real problem," said Waters, adding the helicopter had already found 11 or 12 sandboils upstream, which the districts have then had to "ring and deal with."

On Friday morning, the Corps was still predicted the crest to come on Saturday in Saline County. However, each time a levee breaks upstream, it changes the predictions.

"It's kind of a guessing game with all the breeched levees right now," said Waters. "I don't know how they can figure accurately. Every time a levee breaks it changes everything."

The Corps is also telling farmers the rise -- caused by record releases from upstream reservoirs -- is expected to last through August.

As for now in Saline County, extra sandbagging help is not needed. Levee officials are asking anyone who doesn't need to be in the Missouri River bottoms, to stay off the levees.

Recently people driving on area levees late at night caused damage to already-placed sandbags and to the levees.

Driving on an already soft levee is dangerous and can cause the levee to break.

"It's getting soft and dangerous," said Kelly Thorp, of the Saline-Lafayette Levee District near Grand Pass. "Nobody would want to be responsible for breaking the levee."