Bolivar levees in good shape
by Rory Doyle
Jan 20, 2013 | 2287 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For months, the focus of Mississippi River news has revolved around drought conditions that have lead to historically low levels, but now another river issue is at the forefront — levees.

A recent report from The Associated Press noted that levees deemed in unacceptable condition span the breadth of America.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people.

Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles were found in urgent need of repair.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, issued a statement Thursday in response to the report.

Thompson said since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, he has been "appalled by the magnitude of levee deficiencies discovered across the country."

He added that failure to repair levees puts lives in danger.

According to Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board, Bolivar Countians should feel relieved knowing how well local levees held up during the historic 2011 flooding.

"Our levees are different from a lot in the nation," said Nimrod. "Ours were certified in 2010, so there's no unfavorable rating."

Francis, located on Miss. Highway 1 North, is the only remaining problem area after 2011's floods, and Nimrod said the contractor on site is nearly 70 percent complete.

The existing berm was dug up and repacked and the contractor will soon be installing relief wells.

"The fact that Francis is the only area speaks to how well the levees are constructed in Bolivar County," added Nimrod. "The floods were a major test to the system and they've withstood the test of time.

"We're in good shape in Bolivar County."

Some structures in the Corps report had inadequate "freeboard" — extra height to prevent overflow, which can weaken the landward slope of the levee.

For example, the Corps found there was not enough height in a levee along a 20-mile stretch of the Yazoo River system, which came close to being overtopped in 2011.

Bill Sheppard, assistant chief engineer for the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board, noted that none of its levees failed at that time.

"Our system works," Sheppard said. "Does it have components that need to be fixed after this flood? Absolutely. But if you look at the levee evaluation reports, you'd think, 'Oh Lord, run for the hills.'"

In 2009, a congressional advisory panel recommended that Congress invest in levees, create national levee programs and enact policies to increase awareness about the risks of flooding.

But Congress has yet to adopt the group's report. In the meantime, experts are warning that aging and weak flood-control systems will likely face stiffer tests as climate change makes severe storms more common in the coming years.