The region took on 11 inches of rain as 2016 started and the levees performed as expected, which is good to hear as we all contribute a penny from every $4 we spend to upgrade the local Mississippi River levee and flood control system.
This public works project currently has $71.6 million in plans to bring up the levees to withstand the kind of flood that would hit once every century. The plan then is to take them to the level that will protect against the flood we’ll get once every 500 years, and then to the 1,000-year level.
But why can we tout the levees withstanding a 38-year flood level when all those folks in Pontoon Beach saw water in their homes?
This flood wasn’t like the Flood of ’93, where everyone else’s water was draining through our region and came out of the backed-up Mississippi, cracking levees and sweeping the Gummersheimers’ home off its foundation. The New Year flooding was heavy rain that flooded areas near where it fell and then drained to the river.
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Levee improvements are a matter first of protecting lives, then of protecting property. After that, they are a matter of the regional economy.
Flood insurance rates are exorbitant if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fails to certify the system as being good enough to withstand a 100-year flood. With certification the rates stay reasonable.
But the higher certifications encourage more companies to invest in the great locations and open land available in the American Bottoms, that wide swath of Illinois river bottom real estate that extends from Alton to Chester.
Southwestern Illinois residents saw the regional good of taxing ourselves whether we live above the bluffs or in the bottoms. That investment in those protections is beginning to pay off.