Missouri River Navigation Restoration Efforts Hit Major Milestone Despite Challenges

2024 will mark five years since the historic flood of 2019 in Kansas City and the surrounding region. Water levels on the Missouri River reached heights not seen for decades and caused an estimated $2.9 billion in damages across the Midwest.

While the historic flooding impacted many in the area in ways they will likely not soon forget, it might be hard to believe that just a couple of years after the historic flooding, the region entered a period of historic drought. With water levels now at historic lows, repairing the river’s navigation channel to its pre-flood condition has not been an easy feat.

Despite these challenges, the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed out 2023 by hitting a major milestone in efforts to restore the navigation channel on the Missouri River. The project reached 52% completion heading into the new year—right on track, according to Dane Morris, Kansas City District Missouri River navigation and restoration program manager.

After the flooding, Congress gave the Kansas City and Omaha districts a combined $484 million in additional funding, with $316 million coming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, for repairs to the navigation channel. The additional funds allowed teams from both districts to begin the arduous process of repairing and restoring the navigation channel.

“Those funds have allowed us to go do a detailed inspection of all the repairs that need to be made and then go out and make it happen,” said Morris. “[To date, USACE] has awarded $275 million in repair contracts.”

Newt Marine, a contractor, places rock on a damaged river structure on the Missouri River on April 7, 2022. USACE PHOTO BY DANE MORRIS

There are roughly 7,000 river structures along the 735 miles of the Missouri River. Nearly all the structures needed repair of varying degrees after the flood waters receded in 2019. According to Morris, in a typical year, the Kansas City District places between 100,000 to 150,000 tons of rock as part of standard maintenance of its portion of the navigation channel.

To date, the district has contracted about 5.3 million tons of rock to be placed. Last year alone the district placed 1.2 million tons of rock as part of the repair project.

“Our inspections after the 2019 flood revealed that there was hardly a structure to be found that wasn’t damaged as a result of that flood,” said Morris. “So, much larger magnitude of damage than we typically see and really than we’ve ever seen because of the duration of that high water.”

Due to the magnitude of repairs needed, the Kansas City District opened a satellite construction office solely to oversee the repair efforts, located in Lexington, Missouri. Together with the Missouri River Area Office, located in Napoleon, Missouri, the district has been making significant strides in the repairs needed to keep the navigation channel operational.

“We prioritized which structures were going to be repaired first to make sure we were getting the highest priority in the areas that were having the biggest problems,” said Morris. “Since we’ve started repairs, the navigation channel has remained open, which I think has been a huge success.”

In addition to keeping the navigation channel open, Morris and his team have had other successes since starting the project. These include engaging and collaborating with the commercial navigation industry as part of the repair process and researching and developing innovative ways to operate and maintain the navigation channel.

“I think that’s been one of the silver linings of this whole catastrophe—we’ve been able to go back, do some very detailed inspections, take some time and rethink how and why we are doing things,” said Morris.

In conjunction with the navigation channel repairs, the Kansas City District is also part of a navigation study, which hopes to shed light on future operations of the river.

“Climate is changing, the river is changing, so that is part of our challenge,” said Morris. “Looking into the future and understanding what the state of the river is going to be in 50 years, what do we want it to be, what does the region need it to be, and how can we best make that happen.”

For more information about the status of the Missouri River navigation restoration project, visit Kansas City District > Missions > Civil Works > Navigation (army.mil).