Intentional Levee Breach investigated in Harrison County
July 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson
Pottawattamie County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Theulen received a telephone call at approximately 9:50 a.m. this morning from Harrison County Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Oliver. The purpose of that call was for Mr. Oliver to notify us that the Vanmann #30 Levee near Loveland, may be in the process of being intentionally breached via explosives. The timing of the detonation was alleged to be at 10:00 a.m.
At approximately 10:10 a.m., the Pottawattamie County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) received a complaint call from a private citizen who had apparently witnessed the explosion and wanted to know why “we” were blowing up levees. Pottawattamie County did not participate in this intentional levee breach. It is our understanding that neither the State of Iowa, nor the Army Corps of Engineers, nor any other governmental entity, had anything to do with the detonation.
Multiple calls to the Pottawattamie County EOC from concerned citizens regarding this event have followed. In late May, shortly after the release of the inundation maps by the Army Corps of Engineers, a group of private citizens began work on the Vanmann #30 Levee to raise it to a level which would allow it to withstand the anticipated river flow.
On Saturday, June 25th, this levee was naturally breached in Harrison County near DeSoto Bend. A considerable amount of water flowed south and pooled behind the portion of the Vanmann #30 Levee in question. Pottawattamie County was first notified that a group of citizens wanted to breach this levee on Sunday, June 26th. The purpose of this breach was to lower the Vanmann #30 Levee to the prior level to allow the pooling water to flow back into the Missouri River.
EMA Coordinator Theulen met with the group that evening and informed them that they would likely need the permission of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, before such an activity could take place. These individuals were also cautioned that any activity undertaken by them which affected the flow of water would be at their own risk should the lives and/or property of others be impacted.
On Tuesday, June 28th, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources determined that it did not have authority to regulate the levee in question because it was put into place prior to their statutory authority. The Corps initially indicated that they would not be approving the breaching of the Vanmann #30 Levee. This morning, however, the Army Corps of Engineers indicated that it also had no authority to regulate the levee in question as it is not a federal levee and is outside of federal jurisdiction.
As of this writing, Pottawattamie County is still gathering information about the activities at the Vanmann #30 Levee. We received no advance notification from any individuals involved of with the imminent intention to breach the levee. A member of the Vanmann #30 Levee District was contacted by a representative of the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office late this morning. That individual confirmed that a half mile stretch of the Vanmann #30 Levee (from approximately river mile marker 637 to 637.5) was mechanically excavated. He further confirmed that further lowering of the levee was accomplished via use of explosives.
Obviously, we will be monitoring this situation very closely – both in terms of observing the effect that this breach has on water flow and river levels, and in terms of tracking potential damage to critical infrastructure and private property elsewhere downstream. Furthermore, we are very disappointed in the decision to go forward with the breaching of the Vanmann #30 Levee without notifying any authorities in Pottawattamie County.
There are tens of thousands of citizens on both sides of the river who are affected by the flooding on the Missouri River and private activities such as this which have the potential to affect those lives should not be undertaken without a full consideration of the consequences.
Finally, we are presuming that the explosives detonation on the Vanmann #30 Levee was accomplished by a properly licensed and permitted commercial user of explosives who was using the explosives in accordance with the conditions of that permit. Any use outside the legally mandated process would be a Class C Felony under Iowa law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A full investigation of these activities will be accomplished as soon as possible.