By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The head of the group overseeing work by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says another floodway could be needed to relieve pressure on levees along the Mississippi River.
Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh told The Commercial Appeal that he’s not saying the agency should build a new floodway to go with the four already in place, but it is an idea that should be studied.
Walsh, on a visit to Memphis last week, said it could take between take $1 billion to $2 billion to repair and rebuild the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which suffered significant damage when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks earlier this year.
Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, which oversees the corps’ work on the river, said failing to repair the system by the next flood season could cause flooding up and down the system, which stretches from Illinois to Louisiana.
Walsh said the repairs include fixing some 1,000 sand boils, or seepage areas, and restoring the Missouri levees blown up by the corps to purposely inundate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.
Congress is looking at ways to fund the levee work, with a House subcommittee already approving the use of $1 billion in untapped bailout funds from the Troubled Assets Recovery Program.
The corps is also considering reengineering parts of the system.
The corps’ recovery process comes at time when the levee system is the subject of growing criticism from environmentalists. They say the history-making flood of 2011 showed the folly of relying too much on levees to restrain the Mississippi.
The river needs to be freer to spread out, said Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president for conservation for the group American Rivers.
“People gained an understanding (during the flood) that we can’t just use all available land and wall off the river and hope for the best,” he said.
Fahlund said he hopes the corps will take a “good, hard look” at additional floodways.
Renée Victoria Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, said the levee system is partly to blame for the largest-ever dead zone — an area of low-oxygen levels caused mostly by agricultural runoff — that’s expected to develop this summer in the Gulf of Mexico.
Levees funnel water downriver faster, resulting in “one big flush” of contaminates in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a result, scientists are predicting the largest dead zone — an area of diminished oxygen levels in the water.