Briefing at the bottom of the lake

The Natural Resource Conservation Service announced an additional $20 million for the East Locust Creek Reservoir Project. (KTVO: Riley Fannon)

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Tuesday the availability of $20 million for construction of a lake that will serve 10 north central Missouri counties.

State Conservationist J.R. Flores made the announcement at a location near Milan that will be the bottom of East Locust Creek Reservoir when the huge lake is completed. The 2,352-acre reservoir will provide water for Adair, Chariton, Grundy, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Mercer, Putnam, Schuyler and Sullivan counties. It will also reduce flooding, store sediment and provide water-based recreational opportunities.

The $20 million that Flores announced is part of a total commitment of what could amount to about $59 million from NRCS. The agency previously obligated $19 million in smaller allotments to assist with land acquisition, planning and design. Flores said that, at the discretion of Congress, another $20 million could be made available from NRCS later in the construction process. Local and state funding accounts for the rest of the $110 million total cost of the project.

“This marks a big step in the process because this funding will go toward actual construction of the dam that will provide a much-needed, dependable water supply for this area,” Flores said. “It has taken a lot of work over a lot of years by people from the local level all the way up to Washington, D.C., but their efforts are paying off. This is the point that signifies that this reservoir is really happening.”

Harve Rhodes, North Central Missouri Regional Water Commission chairman, said the idea for the reservoir was born in 2006. He said local municipalities in the region have struggled to provide dependable water supplies for their citizens. He said the reservoir can offer security for times of extreme drought, like the one occurring throughout the region now.

“The dream of this desperately needed reservoir is becoming a reality, and this drought we are in underscores the need,” Rhodes said. “Now we can begin construction, and when that reservoir fills we will never have to worry about water shortage in this part of the country again. We are all grateful for the NRCS, not only for approving these construction dollars, but for their ongoing guidance and support. We are putting final financing together for the local match, but having the federal dollars in-hand sure does help.”

Brad Scott, general manager of the water commission, said the reservoir will sit among 4,300 acres, all of which were purchased from landowners without the need to invoke imminent domain. He said a 79-foot dam across East Locust Creek will create the 2,352-acre body of water that will be 6.5 miles long and will have 82 miles of shoreline. Scott said nearly all 77 structures that were in the pool area have already been removed, and dam and spillway designs are nearing completion. He estimates that construction of the dam will begin next fall and the reservoir should be fully filled in late 2021.

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