The Valley Park levee is made of dirt, clay, gravel, even pipes and sections of an old glass factory.
We decided to take a look inside of it.
A week after the Meramec River rose to near record levels in Valley Park, Eureka and Pacific, we asked EnTech Engineering to use infrared and high definition cameras to videotape the levee so we could see if the flooding had weakened it.
The $49 million levee was only three years old and hadn't settled enough to provide the maximum resistance to a major flood.
Two employees from EnTech to climbed into Skyzoom 4, the KMOV helicopter, and circled the levee collecting images that would be analyzed during the next 24 hours. The high definition camera provided accurate and clear video of the levee as it appears to us. The infrared device detected changes in temperature in the levee.
"You have a levee that's filled with clay and dirt, but it should be for the most part dry," according to Gary Weil, the owner of EnTech. "If we see a fluid it's got a different thermal characteristic than the dry surrounding soils. So, we're looking for those signatures that there's a fluid flowing."
The images that indicate that kind of difference reveal a potential weakness in the levee. Weil found eight of them. The Army Corps of Engineers wanted to talk with him as soon as possible.
Patrick Conroy, Supervisory Civil Engineer with the Corps, and Allan Dooley, a Corps spokesman, traveled to Weil's office in west St. Louis County. They talked for three hours.
Conroy and Weil traded engineering stories as they examined the infrared images and compared the findings to the Corps' maps.
"I've been involved with the design and construction" of the levee, Conroy told me.
Conroy was involved in the design and construction of the Valley Park levee, which explains why he quickly got hooked on Weil's technology.
"Their technology is really neat," said Conroy.
Not exactly the kind of line you expect to hear from a government Geotechnical Engineer.
Clearly, Conroy enjoyed the challenge of answering Weil's questions.
"The more he showed me the more fascinated I became with the technology," Conroy told me.
Conroy was able to determine that one of the images was a Laclede Gas line, another was a line belonging to Missouri-American Water.
The EnTech images showed an area where construction crews buried crumbled up pieces of an old glass factory encapsulated in five feet of hard clay. Conroy and Weil both told me that the debris formed a strong core for the levee and made it more stable.
There are a quarter million cubic yards of construction rubble in the levee. Conroy says not only does it strengthen the levee, it also saved the government $2.5 million, the cost of taking all of that stuff to a landfill.
Conroy was able to explain all of EnTech's findings.
That potential problem, identified through a difference in temperature, shows something under the Union Pacific railroad embankment near Fishpot Creek on the west end of the project. The Corps found some seepage in that area during an inspection of the levee.
"There could be something there," Conroy told me. "What is it we don't know."
Is he concerned?
"It's significant enough to check out," he said. However, he is quick to add that it is "not threatening" to the integrity of the levee.
Conroy promises to check it out and perhaps use remote sensing equipment to explore that section of the levee to see if more work is needed.
Weil called that a "prudent thing to do."
It's clear that EnTech, which conducted this study free of charge, may have something to gain here. Weil is a brilliant engineer who happens to be media savvy. He's aware that it's possible the publicity will reflect well on his business, and perhaps lead to more business.
Maybe with the Corps.
However, that wasn't part of any deal we had with him, or the Corps.
We simply wanted to see for ourselves if the Valley Park levee really braved the big flood.
It looks like the levee not only survived a major test at a young age, but did so without suffering any major weaknesses.
"They have a right to be proud of it," said Weil.