Levee blast means lost year for Missouri farmers

National / World News 4:46 p.m. Thursday, May 5, 2011
 
 

By MICHAEL J. CRUMB

The Associated Press

WYATT, Mo. — Blasting open a levee and submerging more than 200 square miles of Missouri farmland has likely gouged away fertile topsoil, deposited mountains of debris to clear and may even hamper farming in some places for years, experts say.

In this photo made May 3, 2011, floodwater covers farmland near New Madrid, Mo. When the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally broke a clay levee holding back the rising Mississippi River, muddy water came pouring over Missouri farmland and raised fears that the fertile soil would be rendered unusable for months if not years. But soil experts say the long-term damage may not be so bad for farming and some land could even get planted with soybeans later this summer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 

In this photo made May 3, 2011, a farm is seen surrounded by floodwater near New Madrid, Mo. When the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally broke a clay levee holding back the rising Mississippi River, muddy water came pouring over Missouri farmland and raised fears that the fertile soil would be rendered unusable for months if not years. But soil experts say the long-term damage may not be so bad for farming and some land could even get planted with soybeans later this summer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 

In this photo made May 3, 2011, water flows west on to farmland where the Birds Point levee stood in Mississippi County, Mo. When the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally broke the clay levee holding back the rising Mississippi River, muddy water came pouring over Missouri farmland and raised fears that the fertile soil would be rendered unusable for months if not years. But soil experts say the long-term damage may not be so bad for farming and some land could even get planted with soybeans later this summer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 
The planned explosions this week to ease the Mississippi River flooding threatening the town of Cairo, Ill., appear to have succeeded — but their effects on the farmland, where wheat, corn and soybeans are grown — could take months or even years to become clear. The Missouri Farm Bureau said the damage will likely exceed $100 million for this year alone.

“Where the breach is, water just roars through and scours the ground. It’s like pouring water in a sand pile. There is that deep crevice that’s created,” said John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau. “For some farmers, it could take a generation to recoup that area.”

The issue is vital to farmers and the state of Missouri, whose attorney general repeatedly tried to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to break the levee. Opponents of the move argued it would leave the farmland buried under feet of sand and silt, rendering it useless for years.

It’s still not clear how much damage the intentional flooding will cause and how farmers will be compensated for losses to the land and roughly 100 houses scattered through the area. Experts said the extent of the damage can’t be accurately assessed until the floodwaters recede, and that likely will take months.

“It would be more toward the end of summer, early fall,” said Maj. General Michael Walsh, the corps’ commander and division engineer who made the final call to detonate the levee.

The river level itself is going to have to fall from its high flood stage before the water covering the fields can even begin to drain, said Jim Pogue, a corps spokesman. That could take a significant amount of time, he said.

“This is the greatest flood we’ve seen since 1937, we’re tying records, breaking records, all down the river,” Pogue said. “This is likely to be once-in-a-lifetime event.”

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