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Learning from the ‘Great Floods’ of the Missouri River: what they tell us about resilient river management

Presentation by Robert Jacobson, PhD, Branch Chief of River Studies at U.S. Geological Survey

NOTE – This Presentation will be the THIRD Tuesday of the month.

Understanding how, why, and where flood risk has increased on the Lower Missouri River should help inform flood-risk management. Dr. Jacobson will present an analysis of the “Great Floods” of 1993, 2011, and 2019 with implications for very challenging policy questions about how to manage the river for future resilience.

2019 Flood

2019 Flooding near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers in Nebraska. 6/5/19.

Time and Place

Tuesday, November 19, 2019
7:00 pm

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Bistro
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Presentation by Robert Jacobson, PhD, Branch Chief of River Studies at U.S. Geological Survey

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

NOTE – this month’s presentation will be on the THIRD Tuesday of the month. Sorry for the inconvenience. 

The Bistro Restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, but the bar will be open. You ARE welcome to come early, bring some food and gather with friends before the presentation. Speaker Series attendees are welcome after 6:00 p.m.

Recent flooding on the Lower Missouri River – especially in the “Great Floods” of 1993, 2011, and 2019 – owes much of its severity to the convergence of three factors. First, dams, channelization, and levees have altered how water and sediment are transported down the river, resulting in some parts of the river that have incised (and therefore have reduced flood risk) and others that have aggraded through sedimentation on the bed and banks (resulting in increased flood risk).

The second factor is the atmospheric origin of floodwaters. The mainstem reservoir system was designed to handle the relatively predictable snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, but the 1993, 2011, and 2019 floods demonstrated that unpredictable changes in the jet stream can bring large amounts of moist Gulf air into the Missouri River basin, a situation that is especially hazardous when rain falls on frozen ground and/or downstream of the mainstem reservoir system.

The third factor is changing climate. Although climate-change models have predicted increased precipitation throughout most of the Missouri River drainage basin, statistically significant trends in flow records have been difficult to demonstrate because of high hydrologic variability (“noise”). Measurement data are now picking up a trend of increasing runoff that is consistent with climate-change models. Convergence of these three factors has created a sense of urgency to reduce flood risk on the Missouri River. Diagnosis of the factors that contribute to increased flood risk provides some guidance for the very challenging policy questions about how to manage the river for future resilience.



  • 14020 W. Hwy BB, Rocheport, MO
  • Take I-70 to the Rocheport, MO, exit (Exit #115). It’s the first exit east of the Missouri River.
  • Head north toward Rocheport.
  • After about a mile, turn left at the sign for Les Bourgeois Bistro. Follow the signs to the Bistro. You will probably need to park in the lot above the Bistro and walk the trail down.
  • The presentations are held in upstairs in the restaurant. The restaurant is no longer open on Tuesdays but the bar is! You are welcome to bring your own food or snacks.

Resources & Links

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Special thanks to Les Bourgeois Vineyards for giving us the opportunity to use their beautiful space overlooking the Missouri River. All speakers are presenting for free! Thank you all for sharing your knowledge with us!

And a special tip of the hat to volunteer David Owens who has been doing the sound for the Speaker Series for several years.

Our thanks to Dave and the good people of MoRivCC who are video recording these presentations when possible.

The Big Muddy Speaker Series also takes place monthly in Kansas City and St. Charles.

The views and opinions expressed by our presenters do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of Missouri River Relief, the Big Muddy Speaker Series or any of the partners that support this public forum. The Big Muddy Speaker Series believes that hearing diverse perspectives is a crucial building block for an informed public.