Last year's catastrophic Missouri River flood could have been much worse if heavy rainfall had hit the region south of Omaha, an Army Corps of Engineers official said Wednesday.
"I think there were some dodged bullets," said Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the Northwest Division.
Heavy rains on top of unprecedented flows released from federal dams on the upper Missouri from Nebraska to Montana would have caused a lot more damage south of the mouth of the Platte River, he said.
"We would have been hosed," he said. "All those levees would have blown out in Missouri and Kansas."
McMahon's remarks came during a public meeting at the Omaha Marriott on the corps' plans for regulating its six dams on the river during coming months. About 50 people attended.
Responding to critics, McMahon defended how corps engineers in Omaha managed historic flood flows from the nation's largest system of reservoirs across about 2,000 miles of countryside.
"We do use common sense," he said. "We do use real-time data. We are charged with managing the system in a responsible way."
McMahon repeated an apology he makes to people whose homes, farms and businesses suffered damage.
"It's not a perfect system and the corps is not perfect, but we're learning and making improvements," he said.
He said it's important to restore the system so it's prepared for a future big flood.
"Which will happen," McMahon said. "I don't know where. I don't know when. That's the nature of Mother Nature."
Despite the tremendous flood damage across the basin, the way the corps operated its system of dams and levees prevented an estimated $8.2 billion in additional damage, said Kevin Grode, who manages reservoir regulation.
Similar meetings are scheduled Thursday in Jefferson City and St. Joseph, Mo., and Friday in Sioux City, Iowa.
In other developments, the corps has awarded a $2 million contract for placing riprap on the river side of new setback levees constructed earlier this year near Hamburg, Iowa, and Watson, Mo. Completion of the work is anticipated by Aug. 1.
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