November 21, 2019
CHICAGO —The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s (ELPC) new report warns that delays in monitoring, maintenance and repair of damaged levees along the Upper Mississippi River protecting millions of people in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri could result in more breaches in the future, especially as heavier springtime rains are expected to continue as a result of rising global temperatures.
ELPC analyzed data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) National Levee Database and found many levees designated as high or moderate risk of breaching. Some levees that were damaged last spring along the Upper Mississippi River have yet to be repaired. The USACE has not thus far released a list of failed levees in 2019.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified some high-risk levees along the Upper Mississippi River. However, there are many levees along the Upper Mississippi River that haven’t been assessed. Floods from last spring likely weakened many levees that put people, the land and communities at greater risk,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director.
“Levees along the Upper Mississippi River were originally intended to protect riverfront communities from 100-year floods,” said Learner. “Heavy springtime rains and flooding in the Midwest resulting from climate change are occurring more frequently than once every hundred years. Prudent decisionmakers should consider planning differently for the future protection of riverfront communities.”
Many levees in all three states have not been assessed since 2016, including some in the “high-risk” and “moderate-risk” categories. The 2019 Great Floods could have further weakened some of the levees. Moreover, some “low-risk” levees failed in the 2019 floods.
Where levee repairs along the Upper Mississippi River are necessary, the Army Corps taps its supplemental budget. In 2018, that budget totaled $645 million. As of late June, 81 levee districts have requested levee rehabilitation since March 2019. A patchwork of more than $1 billion in 2019 short-term supplemental funding was allocated to the Army Corps for repairs to levees nationwide, with no breakdown of dollars specifically earmarked for the Upper Mississippi River region.