MEMPHIS, Tenn., March 19, 2019 – More than 100 employees working in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Memphis District have been continuously involved in a floodfight on the Lower Mississippi River and its tributaries since Feb. 8. While Memphis is home to most of these men and women, additional personnel from USACE offices across the nation have augmented their numbers.
When levels of the Upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers rose early in February, USACE officials declared a Phase I floodfight in the northern portions of the Memphis District. This included areas around Cairo, Illinois, and on the Lower St. Francis River and White rivers in Arkansas, the Reelfoot-Obion area in Tennessee, and in the bootheel of Missouri.
During a Phase I floodfight, USACE personnel deploy to the field and monitor all federal flood control systems including levees, flood walls and pumping stations. They also monitor rainfall amounts in the affected areas and National Weather Service forecasts to determine if further action is warranted.
River levels continued to rise and on Feb. 20, Memphis District commander Col. Mike Ellicott elevated the USACE response to Phase II in these same areas. To meet this heightened level of activity, USACE established field offices in the affected areas. Thirty-six USACE employees began patrolling and intensively monitoring the Federal flood control works for 12 hours each day, seven days a week.
This high level of monitoring and reporting could only take place through close cooperation with local authorities such as levee boards, local emergency operations personnel and elected officials.
“The people who are protected by the federal flood risk reduction system are essential partners in ensuring the highest level of safety to the people and property of this region,” Col. Ellicott said. “We couldn’t do this without them.”
By February 26, Mississippi River levels at Memphis and southward made it necessary to initiate a Phase II floodfight in the Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas areas. On March 1, the Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Helena, Arkansas areas joined the Phase II floodfight effort.
“I’m happy to say that all parts of our federal flood risk reduction system are working as intended,” Steven Barry, Memphis District Chief of Emergency Operations said. “We are seeing the fourth highest levels on the Mississippi River since the 1927 flood and are passing that water with no problems.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, three of the Memphis District’s 10 floodfight areas remain in a Phase II status, and six remain in Phase I, with 56 USACE employees in the field dedicated to the floodfight mission.
National Weather Service officials forecast another slight rise in river levels, then they expect the river to begin a slow but steady fall.
“Although it looks like we are through the worst of this high water event in the Memphis District, I urge the public to continue watching river levels and forecasts,” Barry said. “There’s always the chance of another significant rise once the northern snow pack begins to melt this spring.”
The USACE Division headquarters in Vicksburg, Mississippi, is coordinating all floodfight activities in the Mississippi Valley. The USACE Emergency Operations Center in Memphis is directing all floodfight activities in partnership with the affected states, levee districts, and other local interest groups.
The Federal flood control works in the Mississippi Valley protect many thousands of homes, millions of lives and vast tracts of fertile cropland. The Memphis District’s flood control system has prevented more than $4.3 billion in flood damages and protected more than five million acres of cropland in the last decade alone.