Building for the Future: The Construction of a Levee Setback on the Missouri River

Presentation by Barbara Charry, The Nature Conservancy, Chris Hamilton, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Corina Zhang, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Charry and Hamilton shared the story of the Atchison County Levee Setback, bringing together the Atchison County Levee District, The Nature Conservancy, NRCS, the Corps of Engineers and others to create more space for the flooding Missouri River by moving a levee back away from the Missouri River.

Published: April 13, 2021

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Drone Shot of Levee Damage
This photo is looking downstream at one of the locations where the Atchison County (MO) levee breached during the 2019 flood. Photo copyright Route 3 Films.

The devastating floods of 2019 left much of northwest Missouri underwater for months. In Atchison County, the very northwest corner of Missouri, the levee breached in 5 locations causing millions of dollars in damage. Homes, businesses, roads and farm fields were flooded, and some were destroyed. Members of the Atchison County Levee District knew they had to do something different to lessen the impacts of repetitive flooding on their communities.

As a partner on the project, Barbara Charry, Floodplains and Nature-based Solutions Strategy Manager for The Nature Conservancy in Missouri convened partners to successfully complete a levee setback or realignment on the Missouri River.  Another key partner was the Natural Resources Conservation Service, with Asst. State Conservationist Chris Hamilton leading his team.

Levee setbacks involve a trade-off. Unprotected land will likely flood more often, while the design gives more room for a flooding river to avoid levee breaches in extreme floods.

Construction began in August of 2020 and will be completed in Spring of 2021. The new levee reconnects over 1,000 acres of floodplain to the river corridor and will provide flood relief benefits for communities up and down the river.

Barbara Charry leads The Nature Conservancy in Missouri’s floodplains and nature-based solutions team, developing strategies and partnerships to benefit nature and help communities adapt to and increase resilience from flooding due to climate change. An experienced conservation leader with expertise in aquatic and terrestrial habitat connectivity and impacts of roads and development on wildlife and habitat, Barbara moved to Saint Louis from Maine to work for TNC Missouri in 2016.

Corina Zhang is currently the Resident Engineer for the Flood Recovery Construction Office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, helping coordinate several levee reconstruction projects. Her experience is primarily in construction and contract administration, most recently in time-sensitive related work.  Prior to moving to Omaha, Corina worked for the Portland, Oregon USACE District as a Project Engineer. She is an outdoor enthusiast and loves cooking.

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