Flooding Puts New Levee System to the Test

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Taken during the construction phase, this photo shows the extent of the work on the levee in the St. Francis area.
photo courtesy Clay County OEM

In 2011, the homes and businesses of St. Francis faced a major crisis when flooding caused the St. Francis River to swell beyond what the levies were originally designed to withstand. In the years since a concerted effort from the townspeople, and the Corp of Engineers, helped themselves narrowly avoid disaster during the most recent round of flooding.

As the flooding receded in 2011, and the ground dried, the thought of the flood had not left the minds of those in charge, and immediately the efforts were put forth to upgrade the levies.

Allen Vaughn, Clay County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator said, "I think they were just not designed to withstand the type of floodwaters we received back in 2011."

Water enters the levies from the St. Francis River which originates from Wappapello Lake in Missouri. Vaughn explained the near failure of the levies were the result of the original designs not accounting for the shear amount of rain water which fell in 2011.

Wappapello Lake had not run over since the 1940s, and it appeared risk of potential flooding had been at a minimum until 2011.

Water from the Wappapello spillways entered the St. Francis River which began to grow rapidly. The levies in the town of St. Francis act as a relief to prevent the St. Francis River from flooding into the town, and during the 2011 flooding there was much concern about the integrity of the levies.

According to Vaughn, the Corp of Engineers worked with the St. Francis Drainage District to help insure that the levies held during the flood.

In the months to come flood plans were created by the Corp of Engineers to widen and increase the height of the levies to prevent future problems. Funding was approved by the United States Congress, and the construction began approximately one year later.

"They applied for it, but we really had no idea that we would get funding that quick, Vaughn said. You're usually looking at 10, 15 years down the road before you can get funding for a project that size, but we got it within a year."

Overall the project took about three years to complete from start to finish. The construction phase of the new levies took about a year and a half to complete and was finished in 2015.

While the levies have been complete since 2015, they were not truly tested until the flooding that occurred in May of this year.

"Of course, they built new ones over there, but they hadn't been tested. So, we were concerned about that being the first big flood to come after them being built," said St. Francis Mayor Teresa Johnson.

She said during the flooding in May, Wappapello released water into the spillways to relieve pressure. In St. Francis they weren't sure how this would affect the levies on top of the rain.

"Everything worked good, and we checked it several times a day and night to make sure everything was holding good," said Johnson.

She noted if the flooding which occurred in May had hit the levies back in 2011 St. Francis would have most-likely flooded.

Johnson also noted there had been some concern about the structural integrity of some areas of the levies because of damages caused by careless driving of off-road vehicles in the area. So far there has been no significant effects, but she is worried about the long-term effects.

In the end the levies held, and St. Francis was saved from any potential disaster, as the efforts of so many has assured the town's safety for the foreseeable future.

County officials were also impressed by the efforts and the results, with Vaughn giving the levies simple praise, "It did a fine job, it did everything it was designed to do."

Overall, the Mayor of St. Francis was also pleased with how the levies preformed, and voiced the community opinion of the new levies.

"Everyone up here is very thankful--we're thankful to the Corp of Engineers and everyone involved that made this happen," Johnson concluded.

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