By Bruce Olson
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Concerns about rising waters in the Mississippi River have prompted engineers to step up investigations of the Birds Point levee, only partially rebuilt after the government intentionally blew it up last spring, officials said on Tuesday.
The levee in the southeastern part of Missouri was breached in May to spare the town of Cairo, Illinois, instead flooding 130,000 acres of farmland. It was rebuilt to a temporary level last fall and inspected about once a week.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major Jon Korneliussen said inspections are now occurring daily, with the Mississippi waters rising because of winter rains. The river stood at 27 feet on January 15, but had risen to 40 feet by Monday.
Kornelussen said the river was expected to crest on Friday at 42 feet. That is much higher than earlier in the month, but still well below the top of the levee, which averages more than 50 feet along the four-mile stretch where it was breached in three places.
Additional work on the levee has been suspended until the end of flood season, usually in June or July.
"Until then, we have to watch and make sure nothing happens," Kornelussen said.
He said most of the water is coming from the Ohio River, which meets the Mississippi near Cairo. Last spring heavy rain caused record-breaking flooding along the Mississippi. The river rose to nearly 62 feet at Cairo, when the levee was breached to allow the water to flow across farmland and back into the twisting Mississippi.
Congress allocated the Corps $802 million in December to fix levees up and down the river, including the Birds Point area.
(Reporting By Bruce Olson; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Paul Thomasch)