OMAHA — Three of the four worst levee breaches along the Missouri River in southwest Iowa were expected to be closed Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
After flooding in March and May resulted in 40 breaches that left the state with a hefty price tag in damages, Iowa is now closer to closing the holes that exposed the Missouri River Valley to floodwaters.
The closure of the four breaches has a projected cost of more than $34 million.
The flooding has been so intense for months that the river is now flowing in a new direction — to the east instead of south — heading overland toward Interstate 29, a rail line and Iowa communities.
"Our immediate goal is stop the river from flowing the wrong direction, to keep it from going east, to make it go south again," said the readiness branch chief for the Corps' Omaha district, Matthew Krajewski.
He added that the four breaches were targeted as priorities because of the infrastructure they protect.
The largest of the four breaches is 1,200 feet on a levee that shields parts of Council Bluffs, Nebraska 34, Interstate 29, two energy plants, a rail line, a Google data center and the town of Pacific Junction. The others were in levees protecting Bartlett, Percival and Hamburg.
Now that construction on the four breaches is in its final stages, the Corps will move on to a $44.2 million project to fill two holes in the levee near Watson, Missouri. Those breaches are contributing to the flooding of Interstate 29.
Krajewski said holes are being filled to a minimum level of protection, not to the levee height or condition that existed before this spring's flooding. Additional work will be needed to do that, he noted.
The Corps is targeting March 2020 to close all breaches along the river between Omaha and Rulo, Krajewski said.
"It's a lofty goal, admittedly," he said. "But that's our goal."