Levee History

Missouri River Levee Units L-561, L-550, and L-536 were authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944 (Public Law 534, 78th Congress, 2nd Session, approved December 22, 1944). The Board of Directors of Atchison County Levee District No. 1 furnished the assurances required by the authorization act, dated April 19, 1949.  Construction of the levees began March 26, 1948 and was completed October 15, 1951.  On that day, Atchison County Levee District No. 1 assumed the duties as Project Sponsor.  Installation of 229 relief wells for underseepage control occurred from March 9, 1951 to January 3, 1952.  Typical levee construction included a 10-foot wide crest 1 vertical to 3 horizontal side slopes and consisted of random fill with a riverside face consisting of 5 feet of cohesive material.  Project Sponsors of a Federal Flood Control Projects are responsible for all operation, maintenance, repair, replacement, and rehabilitation of this project. Project Sponsor responsibilities also include performing inspections, preparing for emergencies, and reporting as outlined in the O&M manual.

Missouri River Levee Units L-561, L-550, and L-536 have provided flood protection to Atchison and Holt counties for 70 years. The top six historical crests are listed in Table 1.

Historical Crest (ft.)Date



Flood of 1952

The flood of 1952 occurred due to rapid melt of abnormally heavy winter snow accumulation and ice jams occurring in upper portions of the Missouri River Basin (i.e. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota). The rapid melt and ice jams that followed occurred during a period of very warm weather at the end of March. The levees were just newly constructed and sustained multiple breaches.
Picture: South of Langdon looking northeast up the old Nishnabotna river channel


Flood of 1984

The flood of 1984 began in late spring when heavy, wet snow and rain fell over a large area of southern South Dakota through Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. The intense rainfall fell over a wide area already saturated from heavy rainfall in April and May. During early June, the heaviest rainfall occurred in the lower basin over northwest Missouri and southeast Nebraska. The resulting runoff produced record and near-record stages on many southeast South Dakota tributaries and produced the highest Missouri River stages since 1952 from Sioux City, Iowa, to Omaha, Nebraska. No levee breaches occurred during this flood event.
Picture: North of the Brownville bridge looking southwest


Flood of 1993

This was the highest crest to date that the Missouri River Levee Units L-561, L-550, and L-536 had experienced. The Missouri and Mississippi river basins were set up early for an extreme flood event. Unusually wet weather beginning in the fall of 1992 was followed by heavy snow through the winter months, falling on already saturated soil. The spring would bring more of the same, rainfall throughout the Missouri and Mississippi river basins produced between 1 and 1.5-times the amount of normal rainfall. Recurring stalled weather systems in the basins during the period from June to September of 1993 brought between 1.5 and 2-times the amount of normal rainfall. This event caused two levee breaches one north of the Brownville bridge and one south near the mouth of Rock Creek.
Picture: Hwy 111 I-29 intersection looking west


Flood of 2010

Repeated heavy rainfall in June and July caused numerous rivers and streams to rise above flood stage. Most of the area received at least 100-300% of normal precipitation for June, with the exception of southeast Nebraska and Northwest Missouri where not as much rain fell. At some point in the summer, just about every point in the entire area was under some type of flood watch, warning, or advisory. The Missouri River level at Brownville was within 1.4 feet of the all-time high crest set in 1993. No levee breaches occurred with this flood event.
Picture: Nishnabotana River near Hartman's Curve


Flood of 2011

The flood of 2011 began in June and lasted through October. The flooding was caused by record snowpack in the mountains and plains of the Missouri River Basin in combination with above-average precipitation in the upper portions of the Missouri River Basin. These conditions caused the main stem flood control reservoirs on the Missouri River, which are regulated and operated by the USACE, to reach flood stage levels. As a result, record-high outflows from these reservoirs were required to be released in order to maintain reservoir water surface elevations that would not jeopardize the structural integrity of these reservoir’s dams. A new historical crest of 44.79 feet was set on June 23. The Missouri River Levee Units L-561, L-550, and L-536 sustained damages throughout the system from the flood in addition to two levee breaches.
Picture: Hwy 136 looking east towards I-29


Flood of 2019

2019 Flood

The “Bomb Cyclone”.  With record snowfall in the central plains and eastern Iowa a 3-day (March 11-13) temperature rise to 60 degrees combined with 1.5-3 inches of rainfall caused a rapid melt.  The frozen ground conditions could not absorb any of the moisture and an unprecedented amount of runoff hit the local streams and rivers with massive chucks of ice traveling downstream acting like a plow.  On March 14th the Spencer Dam collapsed on the Niobrara River sending more unregulated water downstream.  Every levee system south of Council Bluffs, IA to Craig, MO was breached.  The Missouri River gauge at Brownville set a new record of 45.7 feet, 1 foot higher than the previous record.  ACLD’s levees sustained miles of crest damage and 14 total breaches.  All this would start the multi-year rehabilitation process with new levee setbacks on a portion of the system.

Picture: Upper L-550 Breach looking southeast towards Phelps, MO