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Heavy rain events are a threat to wastewater treatment plant in Branson. The solution? Build a wall

The Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson (Photo taken April 14, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
The Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson (Photo taken April 14, 2023)

The Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant has been at risk of flooding for several years since heavier, longer rain events began occurring.

The City of Branson is building a wall.

For years, the city has worried about flooding at the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant, which sits alongside Lake Taneycomo downstream from Table Rock Dam and serves the majority of the city and part of Stone County.

On Friday, city officials, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, the Missouri Department of Economic Development and Southwest Missouri Council of Governments (SMCOG) gathered at the wastewater treatment plant to celebrate $13 million in grant awards to upgade the facility to guard against flooding. Much of the money will be used to construct a 7’ to 9‘ wall around the perimeter of the plant.

The effort to find funding

Jason Ray, executive director of the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments (SMCOG), said he got a call a few years ago from then-Branson Mayor Karen Best who told him she needed a wall.

"And I thought, 'oh, boy. Where is this going?' But that was where we first started to learn about the needs of this facility and how pressing the issue was and what they've been doing as temporary solutions to try to mitigate the impacts of floodwaters to the facility," said Ray.

SMCOG reached out to Branson city officials to learn more. They talked with the Public Works Department and engineers as well as the Taney County Partnership to understand the economic impacts to the city and to the state of Missouri in the event the facility had to be taken offline due to flooding, Ray said. They then worked with the Department of Economic Development to explore funding options.

A sign at the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson shows how high water has gotten (photo taken on April 14, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
A sign at the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson shows how high water has gotten (photo taken on April 14, 2023)

Flooding concerns at the treatment plant

Worries that the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant might flood have been ongoing since 2011 when Branson Utilities director Kendall Powell said they noticed a weather shift. The city began getting more frequent and intense rain events that lasted longer than they used to.

"Floodwaters at Lake Taneycomo started to rise at even higher rates, he said, and so, we got to within inches of the water overtopping the existing berm around the treatment facility, so, with that, the gears were in motion to seek out funding for a wall."

It was in December 2015 when water came close to breaching the berm around the facility. Area flooding in 2017 also led to concerns about water topping the berm. But it’s not just the berm officials worry about.

Sign showing the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson from above and where the wall will be (photo taken on April 14, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
Sign showing the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant in Branson from above and where the wall will be (photo taken on April 14, 2023)

Powell said, when flooding occurs and Lake Taneycomo starts to rise, the water comes up from underneath the Compton Drive Wastewater Treatment Plant. They’ve had to put emergency pumps within the compound to pump water out. The wall will be designed not only to prevent flood waters from going over the top but also to keep water from coming up into the plant from below.

"It's a special wall that the sheet piles of the metal material will be driven down to bedrock so to cut off that flow of water underneath the plant as well," said Powell.

An entry gate will also be installed as well as several rain "dewatering" wells to prevent soil saturation.

Where the funding comes from

SMCOG and the City of Branson leveraged Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to be able to construct the wall. CDBG is federal funding that flows through the state, said Maggie Kost, acting director of DED. Communities can apply, and the state decides which projects to fund.

$10 million was awarded to the city for the wall from DED through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Another $3 million in grant money was obtained from the U.S. Department of Economic Development Administration for other parts of the mitigation project. Electrical service to the treatment facility will have to be rebuilt to accommodate the wall, and the Utilities Department will purchase emergency backup generators in case of a significant flood when Liberty Utilities would have to turn off electricity to the facility.

The DED, with support of SMCOG, works directly with the federal government to procure available funding, according to city officials.

The idea behind the CDBG program, Kost said, "is really to help communities be more resilient. It's to help them be able to have the foundations that you need in order to build your economy. If your wastewater treatment plant isn't protected, it isn't resilient, that's a risk. That's a risk to your economy — it truly is."

The funding is a relief, Powell said, but he won’t breathe easier until the wall is finished. Currently, Utilities staff have to be on standby and prepared to implement temporary measures during large rain events.

Timeline

Construction of the wall is slated for June of this year, and the project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2024.

Branson has two wastewater treatment facilities. The other is Cooper Creek, which serves parts of the city south of Highway 76.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.