HOLT COUNTY, Mo. - Temporary levees serve as signposts on the road to recovery from floods in northwestern Missouri that brought thousands of acres of farming to a screeching halt in 2011.
As Morris Heitman surveyed the sand dunes and half-mile hole in the Mill Creek levee, he's looking forward to farming after the flood.
"To be a farmer you have to be somewhat optimistic. That goes with the lay of the land," Heitman said. "You might say it looks barren, bleak and devoid of life, but it really isn't. This is not the norm or close to the norm, and we're just trying to get back to the level we were at preflood and have a stronger system than we had."
Back to farming
A little luck has made recovery easier.
An open winter - unusually warm and fairly dry - gave farmers time to plan replacement levees and clean debris from fields. Since floodwaters came from reservoirs in northern states, the water was cleaner, leaving less contamination in fields.
Those with only a few inches of silt and sand on fields have worked to plow their acres, mixing it in with existing topsoil.
"Soil particles have different sizes and sand falls out first because it's the heaviest," said Wayne Flanary, a University of Missouri Extension agronomist for Holt County. "The lighter materials - silt then clay- string out as you get farther from levee breaches. If we have layers of different-sized soil particles, water doesn't move through those layers very readily. Another issue is if there was backwater, waters were saline. That high salt content could hurt next season's crops if rains don't filter that salt through the soil."
Those closer to the river are coping with fields where flood currents scoured the topsoil and left sand drifts up to 6 feet high.
"There are places in this field where if you were standing on original ground level, you wouldn't be able to see to each side of you because it's over your head," Heitman said. "Sand deposits that size is just huge amount of cubic yards, so it's very difficult to repair."
A hole in the system
The 2011 flood left 51 holes in 52 miles of Missouri River levees that border Holt County. More than 65,000 acres of farmland sat underwater for four months and nearby towns like Corning and Big Lake were hit hard by floodwaters. Another 55,000 acres of towns and houses also suffered severely from sitting underwater.
In Holt County, a mishmash of 17 individual levee districts made securing funds for levee repairs a more complicated and time-consuming matter than in nearby Atchison County.