Broken Levees, Saturated Soil Heighten Midwest Flooding Risk

March 5, 2020

We’ve been taking stock of the Midwest’s recovery from the floods of 2019, which cost the region dearly. Delayed planting and harvest, loss of livestock, infrastructure damage, and other challenges have taken their toll. While the region has made great strides toward recovery, it may be unprepared for moderate to heavy spring rains in 2020.

Dozens of levees throughout the Midwest remain in disrepair. Continued precipitation has kept river levels elevated for months, preventing efforts to assess and repair damaged levees. Moreover, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the agency which typically funds and manages such repairs – has been overwhelmed by the extent of the damage. The agency estimates that it could take another year or more to fully repair many of the levees.

Another factor delaying repairs is the need to reassess old levee designs in light of increased weather variability. In some cases, their designs may be inadequate for the severe storms that we’re seeing today

Current levels of soil saturation could also heighten the region’s flood risk in the first half of 2020. Typically, in the late winter and early spring, low soil moisture levels in the Midwest rise to normal levels with increasing precipitation. But this year, much of the soil remains saturated from 2019, reducing the soil’s ability to soak up future rain or floodwater.


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