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Mid Missouri conservation area helps provide flood protection and wildlife habitat

5,000-acre Overton Bottoms restores critically needed natural habitat to river bank.

ROCHEPORT, Mo -A newly dedicated Central Missouri conservation area will provide homes for wildlife and help protect human homes from flood waters. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today unveiled Overton Bottoms Conservation Area (CA). The area, just south of Rocheport, Mo, is divided by Interstate 70 and lies on the west bank of the Missouri river. This area restores approximately 5,000 acres of natural habitat.

Overton Bottoms CA was purchased and developed by the COE as part of its Missouri River Mitigation Project. That project seeks to restore habitat lost from the deepening and narrowing of the river. Initiated in 1912, the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project has resulted in the construction and maintenance of a 9-foot deep by 300-foot wide navigation channel on the Missouri from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis. The COE estimates over 400,000 acres of riparian timber, sandbars, wetlands, shallow water aquatic habitat and other habitats were lost due to the navigation project.

The 3,662 acres of Overton Bottoms south of Interstate 70 is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, while the 1,322 acres north of Interstate 70 is managed by the USFWS. The Congressional legislation that created the mitigation project requires the COE to provide 100 percent reimbursement for ongoing management.

Work on Overton Bottoms began in 1998 with acquisition of floodplain property from willing sellers. Many landowners found it economically impractical to undo landscape changes caused by the floods of 1993 and 1995. Flood damage to agricultural lands and riverside towns included destroyed levees, large scour holes and 7-foot-deep sand deposits.

A feature of Overton Bottom South that could greatly impact riverside communities is the moving of 4-1/2 miles of levee from the river's edge. Setting back the levee adds over 900 acres of floodplain, for a total of more than 2,000 acres, on which the river can spread out during flood events. The set-back levee will act as a pressure relief valve, increasing the areas flood storage capacity and reducing flood heights on downstream agricultural lands and communities.

The MDC and USFWS worked in partnership with the COE to create a habitat plan for Overton Bottoms. The agencies' shared goals for the project are to reconnect the floodplain with the Missouri River, restore aquatic and terrestrial floodplain habitat, and provide opportunities for the public to enjoy and use the area. Habitat features being restored include seasonal wetlands, bottomland forests and grasslands.

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