Due to record-breaking, relentless rainfalls, the Midwestern region has been experiencing major flooding since the middle of March 2019. The floods mostly occur in the Missouri River and its headwaters, although the Mississippi River also experienced some less severe floods.
From January until March, the temperature in the Midwest remained at a low 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with snowfall in many areas. The blizzard in early March also exacerbated the flooding. When the snow melted, the frozen ground could not absorb most of the water, which led to a massive runoff to rivers and streams.
The widespread and continuous flooding creates a host of consequences for communities, infrastructure, the agriculture sector, the economy, and people’s lives. Because the Missouri River is the longest river in America, the intense floods affect a number of states. Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska have seen the most damage, with counties declared as disaster areas and communities evacuated.
Impact on Infrastructure
Ten state highways in Central Missouri and multiple roads throughout the state are closed as the Missouri River nears historic crests. Portions of the I-29 had been under 15 feet of floodwater, so the interstate remains closed as well, forcing motorists to look for alternative routes. The relentless rains promise high river levels in the coming weeks.
President Donald Trump has approved Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s disaster declaration request of $25 million. This federal assistance will cover the damaged roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. This will pay for concrete repairs and replacement, repaving of roads, and other infrastructure rehabilitation projects in the state. It will also cover emergency response costs related to the storms and flooding. Trump’s declaration also gives access to assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Program to reduce the impact of natural disasters on life and property.
In Iowa, the flood damaged 23,000 structures, washing away roads and rail lines. At least three people died due to a failing levee system. The total damage is over $1.6 billion.
Impact to Water Systems
Apart from transportation, the flooding also paralyzed water infrastructure. Dozens of wastewater plants failed and are now releasing untreated sewage water. In Nebraska, six public water facilities are inoperable. Other systems are suffering from water main breaks, flooded wells, and power outages.
The power outage in facilities is cutting water production in communities, leaving residents to suffer. The floodwaters may also carry bacteria and chemicals and may contaminate private wells, posing a risk to public health.
Also in Nebraska, the 90-year-old Spencer Dam failed, sending an 11-foot wall of water to the Niobhara River. The river rose to 17.5 feet, affecting three counties.
Impact on Agriculture
Communities surrounding Missouri, which are mostly small farming towns are devastated by severe flooding. Floodwaters destroyed thousands of crops and submerged farms, forcing farmers to evacuate and abandon their land, which was also their livelihood.
Because of the major flooding this year, experts say that farming near the river may no longer be possible until major river management changes are implemented. According to the American Farm Bureau, farms applying for protection against bankruptcy increased by 19 percent in 2018, which is the highest they’ve seen in a decade.
Experts predict that the Missouri River will continue on flooding and the implications are still felt. The national and local government should implement solutions as soon as possible to mitigate the widespread losses across industries and the economy.