Volunteers bag sand as rising river places Lexington in a state of emergency

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LEXINGTON, Mo. — The oldest water plant west of the Mississippi is in trouble. The town of Lexington is taking the rising river into its own hands.

The city is in a state of emergency. Wednesday, Mayor Fred Weidner has asked people not to use water outside and do their best to conserve what they use inside as well.

“It’s amazing that you can just ask for help and on a Wednesday afternoon, you know, they come out here,” he said.

The National Weather Service raised crest predictions about a foot and a half Wednesday morning. Weidner met with city leaders, requested help from the state, and put out word on social media.

“Just a few hours later, we’ve got 150 people up here filling 14,000 sandbags and another 40 or 50 people standing in the river down there throwing sandbags to each other,” he said.

Almost 200 volunteers are fighting for their water plant. The mayor said it’s the oldest one in operation west of the Mississippi. It was built a couple decades after the Civil War.

“We’ve got sandbags and barriers all the way around it, but with the new prediction, we need to go higher. So that’s what we’re doing with these. We’ve got about three feet of barriers around it now and that’s not going to be enough,” Weidner continued.

Both the building and one of the basins needs protection, and the work isn’t easy. Sand is shoveled, bags are filled, tied, and moved. Pallets are loaded and carried to the water’s edge, then loaded into boats before getting stacked – one single bag at a time – to the wall.

Cary Beal, the first person to show up to help Wednesday, said, “The town just pitches in. We just work together. We get a project and say, ‘Okay, what can we do with it?’”

One of the younger volunteers, 14-year-old Alex said, “I think it’s great that everyone’s working together for the community.”

Weidner says the National Guard offered some help, but many places across the region are in the same boat.

“Pretty much everything you see here is because of what the community has done,” he said.

When the town did the same thing back during the flood of 1993, the bags didn’t hold off the river, and Lexington went for weeks without water. Wednesday though, that’s not what they’re thinking about. The people of Lexington are armed and ready, and because of it, the Mighty Mo has quite the opponent.

“We need our water. That’s what it is,” said Beal.

The city has plans for a new water treatment plant; the timeline is about three years out. The river is supposed to crest Friday around 12 p.m. and stay at that high level for about four days.

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