Receding flood waters reveal extensive damage at Columbia Bottom

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Saint Louis
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Spanish Lake, Mo. — The massive flood waters that crested the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area levee June 2 and toppled the State Champion eastern cottonwood tree also left a large portion of the area’s road system devastated, among other damage.

Most of the area is inaccessible to vehicle traffic, requiring the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to close Columbia Bottom to public use until further notice, except for the visitor center which was unaffected.

As a significant amount of water receded last weekend, a 40- to 50- foot breach in the Missouri River levee was revealed. The resulting tumult wreaked havoc with the main asphalt road and bicycle path that runs parallel to it.

“There’s a good half mile section of the road is just busted up and laying in pieces,” said Andy Tappmeyer, Area Manager at Columbia Bottom. Gashes as much as six feet deep have been gouged in the roadway, leaving the path littered with temporary “ponds” until the water fully dries.

Other casualties on the area apparent so far include a capsized permanent stone privy, and damage along the boat ramp and to the fishing jetty. Powerful currents, scouring forces and floating debris were responsible for the destruction.

“We can’t judge the situation on the rest of the area because there is still water on much of it,” Tappmeyer explained. “We’re hoping by the first of next week the water will drop enough for us to assess the remaining damage.”

Regarding the rest of the levee on the Missouri River, Tappmeyer and his staff estimate that while there is minor damage, the basic integrity of the levee seems intact. He speculates that destruction on the Mississippi levee may not be as bad since the current wasn’t as strong there.

“We’ve got to play it by ear as the water comes off and see what we’ve got,” he said.

MDC officials indicated the damage may take months to repair, but their hope is to have the area fully accessible by the 2013-2014 fall duck hunting season. Columbia Bottom is known for its excellent waterfowl hunting. The area must dry out before work can begin though. Officials caution that the repair time frame will depend on weather and any other damage that may yet be discovered.

Columbia Bottom is also a popular destination for dove hunting. However the flood will impact that sport, which opens Sept. 1. Tappmeyer acknowledges that dove hunting this year will not be as good as it usually is on the area.

“We might get some late stuff in,” said Tappmeyer, referring to crops planted to attract the birds. “But even with just bare ground down here and a little bit of cover we’ll still have dove season at Columbia Bottom if at all possible.”

Area staff says this is the highest water seen on Columbia Bottom since MDC acquired the 4,318-acre area in 1997. Preliminary measurements indicate the current flood exceeded the one that occurred during July 2008, but fell short of the flood of 1995.

Accessing the Columbia Bottom web page via the “Conservation Areas” tab at, or calling the area office at 314-877-6014, is the best way to monitor the progress of the clean-up.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is located off Riverview Drive, approximately three miles north of I-270. It sits at the Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the largest river system in North America.