Habitat from levee failure

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

A two-lane road leads over the Missouri River to Rulo, Nebraska where Wild Bill’s Tavern greets travelers with “Thirsty Thursday” $1.75 drink specials. On the Missouri side, the land beside the road curves over corn stalks and cobs buried in the compacted sand, and tumbles in a pool of murky green water.

The two-lane road is a levee, meant to hold back floods. The pool is called a scour pit. It represents a failure— and an opportunity.
In the flood of 2011, water cascaded over the top of the road and curled inward, behind its impermeable surface. The eddies of the surging water ate away at the levee’s core, causing it to fail. As the water receded, it left behind a sunken pool: what Jud Kneuvean of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls a scour pit.

“This levee failing here is not a bad thing,” Kneuvean said, standing with the water on his right and a pit of black mud on his left. “It creates the habitat that we needed.”

A place like this can be home for deer, raccoons and muskrat. It can host thickets of cottonwoods or willow that sprout from flood-borne seeds, and catfish, carp and sunfish can flourish in the pools.

Moreover, it creates a “safety valve,” Kneuvean said. During a flood, surging water can be diverted into this channel and slowed.

The habitat is not certain, though. Some scour pits have been around since the 1950’s, but Kneuvean said you can’t count on them sticking around.

—Edited by Megan LaManna


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