The December 2015 record-breaking flooding was the topic discussed by Lower Meramec River government agencies and other interested parties at a public meeting held recently.
One issue highlighted was the new high water marks established at Pacific, Eureka, and Valley Park.
Meeting Coverage By Jo Schaper
On February 26, 2016, Lower Meramec River government agencies, environmental groups and interested citizens came together at the McHugh Daily Opera House, a historic building in downtown Pacific, where just two months before, over 40 inches of water stood in the lower level of the building, built partially of construction materials recycled from the 1904 World’s Fair.
The attendees were there to recap, discuss and debate the recent record-breaking flood, and to plan for the future, knowing full well that someday the river will rise again. The best time to plan for that eventuality is now.
Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, Missouri Departments of Natural Resources, and Transportation; Franklin, Jefferson and St. Louis counties; the cities of Arnold, Fenton, Valley Park, Eureka and Pacific; the East-West Gateway Council of Governments; the Open Space Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Meramec River Tributary Alliance and Meramec River Recreation Association took the microphone in turn over the five and a half hour meeting to recap and discuss the basin-wide flood on the Meramec River, at its peak from December 27, 2015, to January 4, 2016.
Seventy-six people attended the event, including representatives from other non-governmental and environmental groups, and interested citizens. The agenda and copies of the presentations from the meeting are online HERE, courtesy of David Wilson from East-West Gateway.
The morning session consisted of introductions and recap of ongoing natural resource assessment and environmental planning efforts along the Lower Meramec River, which is defined as from Sullivan to the confluence at Arnold. Highlights of the morning were a report from Our Missouri Waters, an MDNR statewide assessment of 66 Missouri watersheds. The lower Meramec is of special interest because it is considered an impaired watershed mostly due to urbanization and human neglect.
Copies of the Lower Meramec Watershed Plan (Pacific to Valley Park) were passed out – a study funded by EPA Region 7 to assess the health of the system in detail. Of special concern, even before the flood, is the condition of the Big River from Morse Mill to its confluence with the Meramec at Twin Rivers due to the lead, barite and clay contaminated sediment load, and four low head mill dams on the river which interfere with sediment transport and fish migration. Options being looked at include removal of the historic dams, or fish passages around them, but no decisions are imminent.
Remediation of this ecological area has already been authorized and tasked to the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Meramec River Feasibility Study. Despite its title, this study, which runs through 2018, is designed to “protect, enhance, and restore degraded aquatic habitat in St. Louis and Jefferson County” along the river, concurrently with that area becoming more thickly settled. Bank stability, erosion prevention, and a federally endangered mussel study are part of this effort. Final recommendations will not be sent to Washington D.C., until August of 2018.
John Peukert of the Army Corps of Engineers spoke of the Corps involvement in removing hazardous flood debris, in concert with the EPA, and the effects of the Valley Park levee in protecting that city, saying that only minor alterations in stage height or water velocity were felt up and down river from that structure. He emphasized that the ecological study was the only Corps project authorized at this time and that the agency, like most, was under financial sequestration constraining their activities to only those authorized by Congress.
After lunch came the real focus on flooding and its effects. New high water marks were established at Pacific, Eureka, and Valley Park. Amy Bussink and Paul Rydlund of the USGS Water Resources office in Rolla first explained the usual behavior of USGS field crews capturing stage height, water velocity and flood volume, and how it provides a data input stream to the National Weather Service, which in conjunction with their rainfall data, predicts the stage height for the river at measured locations. More information can be found HERE.
Especially interesting is a USGS service coming online across the country called Flood Inundation Maps. Using data collected from the previous flood, plus stage hydrograph data from the National Weather Service and very precise topographic/elevation maps, the program is able to generate flood maps, showing which streets and buildings are likely to be affected in near real time.
Rydlund showed how the system works on the Blue River in Kansas City, and said a similar system was possible to build, with the aid of local partnerships, on the lower Meramec. Like many federal efforts, a local cost share is required for implementation. Further information can be found HERE.
The afternoon consisted of three panels: the first, a cities panel, with representatives discussing the impact of the flood on their respective towns; a utilities panel where people men from Missouri American Water and the Metropolitan Sewer District discussed flooding impacts and recovery, with Jay Hoskins of MSD announcing that the Fenton Treatment Plant had resumed primary treatment, with the plant to be fully back online sometime in April, and a transportation panel, with Karen Yeomans of MODoT discussing the temporary but unprecedented loss of both I-44 and I-55 at the height of the flood, and possible prevention of this in the future, while Bernie Arnold did the same for Jefferson and Ron Williams for Franklin county roads.
People seemed pleased with the information and contacts exchanged at the meeting. The group seemed interested in working on watershed issues going forward but no new large group actions were planned or proposed that day.