Shoring up the levee

Pictured, farmers and Luhr Bros. Construction donated equipment to help repair the levee at Reichmann Road. 

The Columbia Levee and Drainage District, with the help of local volunteers, spent three days last week shoring up the levee on Reichmann Road south of Merrimac and southwest of Fountain. 

The work should help fix problems that have plagued that area of the levee for the past few years. 

“We had some boil fields at Riechmann Road and Levee Road in recent years when the river’s been pretty high,” Columbia Levee and Drainage District Chairman Brian Mehrtens said. “We’ve been getting many, many boils. We have a few other places (that cause problems), but this is the worst area in our district.” 

 In basic terms, the work involved adding dirt to where the boils appeared in order to raise the ground level while still giving room for nearby relief wells to drain. 

“What we’re doing is we’re putting soil mats down and applying dirt to relieve the pressure on the levee from the river so that it doesn’t create sand boils,” former Monroe County Commissioner Delbert Wittenauer explained. 

Wittenauer has been leading levee repair efforts for the last several years in the Bottoms.

In this particular area, he said sand boils developed increasingly close to the levee after the Flood of 1993.

 That can be problematic as the sand boils – which occur when water under pressure wells up through a bed of sand – can move the earth underneath the levee.

In recent years, Wittenauer said the sand boils have appeared when river levels are as low as 30 feet because of how high the Mississippi River has gotten the past few years.

“These levees have weakened over time because of that high pressure,” Wittenauer said, noting river levels have exceeded 40 feet the last two years. “So every time we get a high river, we’re down there at Reichmann Road standing in the mud up to our knees throwing sandbags from person to person.” 

Given the hazard that possesses to the people protected by the levee and the workers who must scramble to repair it, Wittenauer said he and the district realized the best course of action would be to fix the problems themselves. 

“I talked to politicians, people with money, the (Army) Corps of Engineers, just trying to get somebody to fix it,” Wittenauer said. “They’ve got priorities, and that isn’t one of them.” 

Mehrtens credited Wittenauer with taking the lead on this, saying he handled the necessary permits and legal matters and coordinated volunteer work. 

“Delbert’s really been the one who took the bull by the horns and pushed this thing through,” he said. 

Mehrtens especially appreciated the volunteer help, highlighting that “quite a few” farmers in the district brought large tractors and scrapers. Even those who did not have the required equipment found ways to help.

“Between everybody, we’ve been moving the dirt and getting it done,” Mehrtens said. “And there’s a lot of people in our district who didn’t have tractors and scrapers, and they donated money for fuel.” 

Luhr Bros. of Columbia also contributed free labor and equipment. 

“We couldn’t do this without them,” Wittenauer said. 

Thanks to all those efforts, Mehrtens said the project is being completed with minimal district funds. 

“It’s going to cost us a little, but it’s manageable now,” he said. 

After last Wednesday, the work on that troublesome area of the levee is basically done, with only small tasks remaining. 

That will be completed as soon as possible, but the work already accomplished should go a long way to alleviating the levee issues. 

“It seems like it’s working pretty well right now,” Mehrtens said. 

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