After record-breaking year, heavy risk of more flooding has NW Missouri residents calling for change

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HOLT COUNTY, Mo. – The National Weather Service predicts the flood risk across Missouri this spring will be above normal to well above normal.

It's a prediction that worries people who live in northwestern Missouri.

2019 was the wettest year on date for the Missouri Basin, according to the agency’s latest spring flood outlook. Flooding is expected in the region again in 2020.

Tom Bullock is a commissioner in Holt County, Missouri. He owns a home in Big Lake with his wife and was only able to move back in December after flooding along the Missouri River forced them out.

“It’s been a son of a gun around here,” Bullock said. “If we do flood, and I’m telling you we probably are going to from everything that’s been told to me, but I’m just hoping it’s not nearly as bad as it was last year.”

Bullock, who has lived in the area all his life, said they didn't have this problem before the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

“The Corps changed the way they manage the river, notched all the dikes, slowed the river down,” he said. “Taking care of the endangered species has hurt the people that live here, work here, farm here and own land here and that should have never happened. People should come first.”

Bullock is worried because nearly half of the 20 or so levee breaches in his county have yet to be repaired. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished surveying the holes last week.

“We need to do something better for this county because we’re just having too many multi-floods. Every couple of years, we have floods,” he said.

Bullock said the Corps has lowered the lakes north of Big Lake, which helps, but what he really wants to see is a federal levee built in the county.

“All we have are levees on an 80-20 split with the Corps,” he explained. “Federal levees are a lot bigger, wider, taller, everything. They’ll take a lot more water.”

In nearby Craig, leaders have started raising money to build their own levee around the town, which lost almost half of its population due to the floods.

“With the city of Craig, a lot of revenue is gone but the expenses are up,” said Misty Foster, the city clerk. “We push quite a bit of water, over a million gallons of water in on month to Big Lake during their active season for camping and swimming. This year, zero because they’ve lost much of their community.”

Foster estimated the price tag of a farmable levee around city limits would cost $1.5 million. They’re hoping to raise a good portion of the funds through private donations.

“The option for federal funding is there. The Corps has offered us 80-20,” she said. “However, if we go that route, there are a lot of rules and regulations. We wouldn’t be able to farm it, and the farmers have already lost a lot of ground. We don’t want to take more from them.”

Foster believes Craig could bounce back if the right infrastructure is in place.

“There’s a lot of potential here. There’s the railroad, the interstate, a gas line,” she said. “We have the potential for growth. If we can get that levee up, I think that people will come back.”

As for Bullock, he’s thinking about the future of the county. He said if something isn’t done, people who live near the river will continue to deal with flooding.

“I’m sick of this. We have a nice area. I want to protect it,” he said.

The meeting concerning a federal levee will be held Friday, Feb. 21 at the Holt County Courthouse in Oregon, Missouri. All landowners are encouraged to attend.

The city of Craig will host its second fundraiser benefiting its levee project on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Craig School. The planned concert is from 8a.m. to 5 p.m. and cost $5.

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