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Parson-Appointed Advisory Group Calls For More Flood Protection For Rural Areas

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo
Winfield Foley Fire Protection District
Gov. Mike Parson last summer appointed a group of regulators, farmers and navigation industry representatives to advise the state on how to address future floods in Missouri.

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed to study ways to address flooding has released a report that recommends state and federal agencies repair and strengthen levees, especially in rural areas hit severely by prolonged flooding this year. 

Record flooding in 2019 overtopped and breached dozens of levees along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, causing damage to many farms and communities. Some parts of western Missouri experienced flooding for as long as seven months.

Parson signed an executive order in July to create a Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group to recommend how to improve flood recovery and the state’s levee system

Rebuilding in flood-prone areas has led to repeated damage in the same areas, said Dru Buntin, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

“What the group has tried to look at is based on what we’ve seen in these large floods, whether it’s 2011, 1993 or this past year. Where are we seeing those problem areas?” Buntin said.

The 24-member advisory group includes officials from state agencies, primarily the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Other members represented levee districts, agriculture groups and the navigation industry. 

The report released Tuesday finds that state and federal agencies should support levee district projects aimed at reducing constriction of the river during floods. It advocates that state and federal governments support, in particular, Atchison County’s efforts in northwest Missouri to move levees farther back from the Missouri River. 

The advisory group of regulators and representatives from the navigation and agriculture industry recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers should repair breached levees to help ease the costs for farmers paying crop insurance. Members also suggested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency extend the dates for determining premium rates on the 2020 growing season. 

The report largely focused on structural solutions, such as levee repairs. However, it did suggest that officials consider alternative flood-control strategies, such as buying frequently flooded properties. Environmental groups have also advocated for non-structural solutions, such as restoring wetlands to reconnect rivers to the floodplain. 

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment and other environmental organizations have complained that the working group does not include scientists or someone to provide a conservation perspective. 

The advisory group plans to release a final report in late May.

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.