Leading the way: Kansas Citys Levees Program

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District
Published March 16, 2023
A group of people in reflective vests and hard hats stand in the snow in front of a large grey bridge outside.

A group of Kansas Citys Levees Program partners tour project site locations of the Kansas Citys Levees project near Kansas City, Missouri, in winter 2022.

Three men in reflective vests and hard hats look at a document in front of a white pick up truck.

Three Kansas City District employees examine a document for the Kansas Citys Levees Project while onsite near Kansas City, Missouri.

People in reflective vests and hard hats stand outside on a construction site.

Scott Mensing, Kansas Citys Levees Program Manager, speaks to a group of new employees on site of the Argentine pump station during a tour of the Kansas City District's local projects near Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 8, 2023.

Unless you work or live near the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, the significance of the rivers may not be at the forefront of your mind. It is, however, at the forefront of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District’s mind. The Kansas City District supports flood risk reduction on the Missouri and Kansas Rivers by delivering sustainable solutions to meet the ever-growing water resource needs of the Heartland and the nation.

One way to provide flood risk reduction to the Kansas City metro area is through building levees and floodwalls. Both have been protecting the metro area for generations and were originally constructed by local interests and municipalities in the early 1900s following the historic 1903 flood. USACE first became involved with these levee systems following the passage of the 1936 Flood Control Act, which authorized USACE to upgrade levees and floodwalls. Since then, USACE has continued to partner with local levee and drainage districts and municipalities to make further improvements. This proved invaluable as the region has experienced historic destruction from floods in 1953, 1993, 2011 and 2019.

Currently the Kansas City District is constructing the Kansas Citys Levees Program, also known as the KC Levees. This program is one of the largest and most complex civil works projects the Kansas City District has delivered. The goal is to reduce the risk of flooding by 200% through improving the resiliency and reliability of 17 miles of existing levee and floodwall systems within the Argentine, Armourdale and Central Industrial District areas of Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri.

These leveed districts are in the heart of the metropolitan area and are home to 30,000 people, over 3,000 structures and more than $10 billion of infrastructure. This includes the largest railroad terminal, by tonnage, in the nation. Along with this terminal, BNSF Railway’s Argentine yard, the second largest railroad classification yard in the nation, is located behind the Argentine levee.

The $529 million KC Levees is fully federally funded through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. With the receipt of full federal funding, the KC Levees was able to be aggressive in the design and construction of the projects to ensure communities experienced the benefits quickly. Because of the aggressive schedule, the KC Levees is scheduled to complete design and construction in seven years – twice as fast as originally planned.

“When we received the determination that the project would be fully federal funded, we were able to move more rapidly through design and into construction. Because of the ability to accelerate the schedule, we can provide increased flood resiliency to the area and the nation as a whole,” said Zachary Parsons, Kansas City District, project manager. 

To stay on the aggressive timeline, the Kansas City District partnered with outside engineering contractors. At one point during the design of the program, there were over 250 people working on the design efforts.

“The design effort is unique because we had USACE and outside engineering design teams working on the design piece because of the fast timeline and their technical capabilities. The whole design was divided up to leverage staff strengths and weaknesses. We could not have completed the design and met the aggressive schedule without their support,” said Joshua Boeckmann, Kansas City District, project manager. 

The KC Levees includes levee and floodwall raise improvements, with an average of a five-foot raise, construction of stability and under-seepage improvements to meet current USACE design criteria, 14 pump station repairs and/or replacements, modification and relocation of over 200 utilities, construction of 12 sandbag and stoplog closure structures across BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and Kansas City Terminal Railway main lines and yards, and improvements to three railroad owned bridges.

The Kansas City District has also partnered with the Kaw Valley Drainage District, the original levee constructor, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City Kansas and the City of Kansas City, Missouri. When complete, the three non-federal partners will own, operate and maintain the improved levees and floodwalls.

“I am proud of our KC Levees team and their dedication to delivering vital improvements to the metro area and their innovative approach to collaborating with their partners and stakeholders. This team personally knows every affected landowner, and the affected communities trust our commitment to quality,” said Col. Travis Rayfield, district commander and district engineer for the Kansas City District.

Besides collaborating with non-federal government agencies and engineering firms, the KC Levees team visited with every single landowner along the 17 miles of levees to understand their needs. These meetings enabled the team and landowners to find the best way forward together to allow businesses to stay operational during construction.

“Early and frequent communication, understanding and being empathetic to business operations, and including stakeholders into the design process are critical when collaborating with partners. To complete the KC Levees, we had to build trusted relationships with everyone that may be impacted in some way by the project,” said Scott Mensing, Kansas Citys Levees program manager.

Power can be found in partnerships and collaboration. Due to their success and dedication to the program, partnerships and punctuality, the KC Levees team was awarded the Eagle Award by the Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition. The Eagle Award is not annually awarded; it is only awarded when individuals or teams go above and beyond in providing support of water resource development or activities within the region.

“The people on our team are the best of the best, and we wouldn’t be speaking to you today without them,” said Mensing at a recent presentation on the KC Levees.

The Kansas Citys Levees Program is scheduled to be completed in 2026.