Our survey teams usually set sail on the boat right a daybreak, launching into the Missouri River fog, then lower the sonar equipment into the river to measure the depth along our journey. If they get a reading of lower depths, they annotate that in GPS and mark the map, reporting these issues back to Missouri River Area Office and begin the process of engineering to make it better for the industry so boats can get by without grounding.
Although the Missouri River experienced high water for over 29 straight months from 2018 through 2020, including the significant flooding in 2019, river levels have returned to normal for this time of year. But the Missouri River Basin has received very little rain with the subsequent runoff into the streams and rivers that lead to the Missouri River.
“The work these survey teams do is critical in making needed repairs, supporting emergency dredging, and assisting navigation pilots on the river. The Kansas City District is all in to do absolutely everything we can to keep the river navigable. To do this, working with our navigation partners and industry is crucial to everything we do. Their feedback, information, and communication ensure we can work together to solve the challenges on the river,” said Col. Bill Hannan, commander of the Kansas City District.
For navigation purposes, releases from Gavin’s Point dam upriver meet flow targets through Kansas City to maintain the depth of the navigation channel to nine feet deep. Currently, the river is at normal navigation flows, but extreme damage to river training structures from the Missouri River flood of 2019 is not allowing the navigation channel to self-scour to nine feet in many areas. With little additional water entering the system downstream of Kansas City, significant sand builds up and cause shoaling - where the built up sand causes the depth of the water to be less than nine feet.
Basically there is sand suspended in flow, but when the water flow drops rapidly like it did in August, the sand falls out of suspension and the river training structures are damaged so they have not directed the flow into the channel to scour out the sand as designed.
The Kansas City District, Missouri River Area Office has two survey teams who have been working long hours to identify locations and extent of shoaling in order to develop direct solutions in repairing the river training structures to improve the self-scouring function and to employ commercial dredgers to remove the sand shoals out of the river channel.
Increased surveys began in mid-August and are expected to continue through the end of the support to navigation season – 1 December, at the mouth of the river near St. Louis.
The survey crews collect bathymetric surveys to determine the depth of water in the navigation channel. They’re looking at areas of concern reported by the navigation community where depth less than the authorized depth of 9’ in the 300-foot by 9-foot channel has been encountered by commercial shipping.
Normally surveys are done on an as needed basis, or when Areas of Concern (AOCs) are received from the navigation industry. In addition, channel recon inspections are performed a minimum of once per month – 500 miles of channel from Rulo, Neb. to St. Louis. Currently, multiple surveys are being conducted daily of AOCs to provide up-to-date conditions for the navigation channel.
This helps identify where the channel is restricted and assists navigators in transiting around the areas where shoaling is occurring. In addition, when dredging is employed the surveys help identify where to dredge and to check to see if dredging is opening up the channel.
This helps avoid accidents: boats can run aground, break apart from towboat, cause damage downstream to private - other commercial vessels, docks - or public infrastructure - bridge or piers.
One member of the survey crew usually one works mainly on land working on levee rehabilitation and also staking out structures for maintenance or new river training structures also known as dikes. The other crew normally is out surveying the channel. That crew also sets temporary benchmarks as reference points for survey activities.
The Kansas City District posts these surveys on the navigation website at: https://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Navigation/ [on the right hand side, scroll down the screen]. The surveys are also emailed out to navigators on a distribution list for the daily boat reports. Each survey is titled as to the portion of the river that was surveyed.
You can also put a shortcut on your phone to a web app at: https://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Navigation-Web-App/ which gives shortcuts to the most-use reports relating to the river and our reservoirs including a link to the most recent surveys. Both Apple and Android have our downloadable app for phones or other mobile devices at the appropriate app store. Search for “USACE Kansas City District”.
“The crews are working hard day in and day out to provide these surveys to the navigation industry to aide in navigation of the restricted areas,” said Mitch Roberts, Operating Project Manager, Missouri River Project.