Axne Fights for Levee Repairs in Western Iowa

Sep 8, 2021

In new letter, Rep. Axne continues to advocate on behalf of Iowans in southwest Iowa still recovering from the 2019 floods

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) raised significant concerns over unnecessary delays of critical levee repairs along the Missouri River, repairs that would help protect Iowans in the southwest corner of the state that she represents in Congress.

In a letter sent today to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and key officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Axne raised concerns about delays in repairs to the Coulthard Levee, which runs through the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Harrison County.

Repairs to the Coulthard Levee have faced obstacles from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, causing delays that – if not completed by next spring – could devastate homes, businesses, and acres of farmland south of the Levee in Harrison and Pottawattamie Counties.

“We cannot allow bureaucratic red tape to stand in the way of Iowans protecting their communities from future flooding,” said Rep. Axne. “Two and a half years since the flooding along the Missouri River, Iowans are still rebuilding and working to protect their communities from future devastation and I’m greatly concerned about the delays with the Coulthard Levee in Southwest Iowa. From securing over $3 billion in emergency relief funds to holding federal agencies accountable with my Iowa Flood Funding Tracker, I’ve been committed to ensuring Iowans have the resources they need to recover from the 2019 floods and will continue to stand up for Iowans as we work to protect ourselves and communities.”

In her letter, Rep. Axne requested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work promptly with the Coulthard Levee District to allow the levee to be repaired. Axne also highlighted that the levee district has received a grant from the State of Iowa to help fund the repairs which expires at the end of this year.

Rep. Axne had only been serving in Congress two months when devastating floods struck the southwest corner of Iowa in March 2019.

In the aftermath of those floods, Rep. Axne got straight to work – successfully securing $3 billion in federal disaster aid to help with recovery efforts in the region.

Last year, Axne introduced bipartisan legislation to provide the Army Corps with new authority to cut through red tape and provide federal funds for levees in repeated flooding communities such as Hamburg. That legislation was adapted within the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 to successfully give new authority to the Army Corps of Engineers in order for them to address the needs of communities facing repeated flooding events.

Rep. Axne has been tracking funding provided to Iowa to help rebuild from last year’s flooding with her Iowa Flood Funding Tracker.

The letter to the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can be found below:

Secretary Haaland, Principal Deputy Director Williams, and Regional Director Wooley,

I write today in response to a number of concerns I have heard from my constituents regarding the repairs of the Coulthard Levee, which, along with the Vanman Levee, serve as critical flood protection for Southwest Iowans. These two levees protect roughly 30,000 acres of farmland, many of my constituent’s homes, and portions of Interstate 29 from flooding along the Missouri River.

As you may know, my constituents experienced a historic flood in the spring of 2019 that devasted farmland, destroyed homes and businesses, and resulted in millions of damages that we are still fighting to recover from. The two levees, while separate entities, work as a system necessary to protect the lives and livelihood of my constituents. While I understand repairs are underway to restore the proper height for the Vanman Levee, I have heard numerous concerns over an issue that is preventing the Coulthard Levee from being repaired and built to the necessary height in order to adequately protect Iowans. 

The Coulthard Levee District seeks to repair the levee to the original height of 1005.5 feet above sea level and has received a grant from the State of Iowa to conduct the repairs. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is preventing the work from being carried out and has issued a “Cease and Desist” letter to stop the repairs. While I understand there are disagreements between the Levee District and FWS on what the original height of the levee was, and therefore what it should be rebuilt to, the levee sponsors – who have maintained the levee for generations – have significant evidence that the levee was originally built at the height of 1005.5 feet above sea level.

As Iowans still work to recover and repair the damages from the historic 2019 floods, we must not allow bureaucratic red tape to stand in the way of protecting Iowans from future flooding. Timely repairs of our levee system is not only of the upmost importance to protect my constituents, but the grant from the State of Iowa expires at the end of this year and the difficulties with the FWS threaten the community’s ability to finance this important work.

I respectfully encourage your offices to work diligently and quickly with the representatives of the Coulthard Levee to resolve this issue and to allow the levee to be repaired at the adequate height in order to protect my constituents from future flooding. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.