Now that the floodwaters of spring and summer have receded, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified 93 critical areas of damage in the Mississippi River and tributaries (MR&T) system that won’t survive another flood without great risk to life. But the Corps only has the money to fix the top 10.

The top 10 projects on the Corps' list would cost $75.8 million. The agency released those and an additional $704 million worth of critical projects to a meeting of the Interagency Recovery Task Force in New Orleans October 20. The Corps formed the IRTF to work with federal and state partners to come up with solutions to repair the damage wrought by the record-breaking 2011 spring floods.

Since May, the Corps has been racing to assess damages and develop a priority-ranked needs list, to apprise emergency management folks and the public of imminent danger.  The Corps loosely estimates repair costs at $2 billion, but damages are still being assessed.  “The Northwest Division is four months behind the Mississippi Valley Division in flooding and will still be doing damage assessments through the fall and winter,” says Scott Whitney, regional flood risk manager for the MVD. He adds that the cost to repair navigation structures in the upper Mississippi will surpass the cost of the primarily dirt repairs — levee reconstruction, dredging and channel improvements — in the lower Mississippi. 

Since Congress hasn’t authorized any additional funds for the repairs, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy has authorized the Corps to pull funds from other projects to make the repairs.  “We are working in the 2011, 2012, 2013 budget cycle and managed to pull $225 million nationwide,” Whitney says. “Even given that, we can’t muster enough for the magnitude of damages.  With our current budget, it will take 10-12 years to affect the repairs to the MR&T system from this flood season. “

The Corps wants state representatives to know that projects in their states will be hit hard. “The commanding general is telling states to be forewarned that nothing is sacred,” Whitney says. “Some projects are being sacrificed, and the promise of getting those funds back in this economy is grim.”