Local environmentalists say there are more sewage spills, property damage and flood cleanups in our future because of construction in floodplains, loss of wetlands and new levees. They say the Valley Park levee was built anywhere from five to eight feet higher than authorized and is the culprit in unprecedented flooding along the Meramec River in late 2015 and 2016 in Kirkwood, Sunset Hills, Fenton and farther downstream.
By Don Corrigan (South County Times)
Residents of Fenton and Sunset Hills are being warned to avoid contact with the Meramec River for the second time this year in the wake of more flooding this week at the Fenton Wastewater Treatment facility.
According to the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), almost 4 inches of rain fell in six hours in parts of St. Louis County, inundating the wastewater plant and flooding the ultraviolet light disinfection building located in the back of the facility.
MSD is asking people to avoid contact with the Meramec River from Fenton to the Mississippi River. Warning signs have been posted along the river. If anyone does come into contact with the river water, which may be contaminated, MSD is advising those affected to immediately wash thoroughly with soap and water.
Warnings about the river in January and February often went unheeded, as boaters and anglers continued to use the Meramec in the area of George Winter Park. The warnings earlier this year came as a result of up to 12 inches of rain and the flooding of MSD plants at both Fenton and Valley Park.
Critics of the $50 million levee in Valley Park raised concerns again this week that more destructive flooding is in the future of Meramec River Valley residents. They argue that the levee is built too high and that the height is beyond the 435 feet (above sea level) that was authorized.
Bob Criss, an earth and planetary science professor at Washington University, argues that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not follow its own rules. The higher levee is protecting Valley Park, but sending flood water problems downstream to other communities.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get Corps specifications for levee construction and to see if it was built higher than was originally approved.
In a certified letter from the Army Corps of Engineers, the FOIA request from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center was rebuffed. The request was denied under exemptions related to “Department of Defense critical infrastructure security information.”
Criss termed the denial of information about the levee on the grounds of security concerns as ludicrous. Rather than wait for the results of an FOIA appeal for information, local environmentalists recently hired a civil engineering firm to do measurements on the levee at several different points to see if it violates the 435 feet (above sea level) that was authorized.
“Facing these indefensible FOIA delays, we sought the services of a professional civil engineering firm to accurately measure the levee elevations,” said Glenn Jamboretz, a member of Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. “Picket, Ray & Silver is an engineering firm with considerable experiences in hydrological issues.”
According to Jamboretz, the results of their survey are as follows:
- Point 901 Vance Road #1 was measured at 439.85 feet.
- Point 902 Vance Road #2 was measured at 443.30 feet.
- Point 907 Top Levee #2 was measured at 438.17 feet.
- Point 908 Top Levee #2 was measured at 437.03 feet.
“All of these measurements exceed the 435 feet authorized,” Jamboretz noted. “Had Valley Park and the Corps complied with the authorized 435 feet, water would have overtopped their levee in the flood that affected so many people in December, January and February.
“By having their levee at 438 to 443 feet, Valley Park stayed dry, but forced the water to surrounding communities,” Jamboretz added.
The flooding this week would not have topped the levee, but the problems with flood waters at the Fenton MSD sewage plant this week recall the shutdown of two MSD plants for weeks after the torrential rains of December 2015 and the continued flooding into January 2016.
In addition to severely damaging the sewage treatment plants, the earlier flooding caused millions of dollars of damage in Fenton and Arnold, as well as damage in low-lying areas of Kirkwood and Sunset Hills.
Jamboretz said environmentalists will share the latest findings about the levee with city officials and property owners who sustained flood damage. He said it was too early to speculate on what legal actions might result with the latest findings showing the levee height exceeds authorized levels.
This is a podcast interview with Bob Criss, an earth and planetary science professor at Washington University, was recorded after the historic St. Louis area flooding in December of 2015. He explains why all the new development and levee construction could make flooding worse.