Metro-East News

Local rainfall and backup from Mississippi raises water levels along the Kaskaskia River

Mississippi and Kaskaskia river flooding in Southern Illinois

Drone footage showing Mississippi and Kaskaskia river levels in Evansville, Chester, Ellis Grove and Modoc, Illinois. Forecasted rain could put river levels above current crest estimates at several locations this week.
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Drone footage showing Mississippi and Kaskaskia river levels in Evansville, Chester, Ellis Grove and Modoc, Illinois. Forecasted rain could put river levels above current crest estimates at several locations this week.

Water levels on the Kaskaskia River have been rising toward major flood stage near the metro-east due to activity both upstream and downstream.

The river level at New Athens was at 88.36 feet Monday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service’s advanced hydrologic prediction service. Major flooding occurs at 85 feet for the Kaskaskia.

As the Mississippi reached its crest Monday and began to flood nearby communities, it also forced backups in tributaries like the Kaskaskia, said Sue Casseau, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis.

In addition to the backup from the Mississippi, the upper Kaskaskia River Basin experienced rainfall over the weekend, the runoff of which trickled downstream and caused the water levels to rise even more.

“It’s pretty much all of the Kaskaskia that’s rising now,” said Casseau.

The only river navigation channel on the Kaskaskia is the lower 36 miles that runs from the mouth of the river that feeds into the Mississippi up to the Jerry Costello Lock and Dam in Modoc. The Costello is the only lock on the Kaskaskia, Casseau said, and it’s been closed as of Monday due to high water levels.

“Once water levels are reduced, traffic will start coming in from smaller ports and on to the Mississippi River then on to the rest of the world,” Casseau said.

Some businesses along the river closed over the weekend due to the flooding, including the Kaskaskia Campgrounds in New Athens. Cheri Smith, who runs the family-owned business, said they’re always prepared for this sort of situation.

“It doesn’t happen every year, but we know that it’s possible,” Smith said. “It’s unfortunate when it does. This year, it’s going to be an unusually high amount of flooding because the tributaries to the Mississippi are being affected.”

Smith said the business give campers ample amount of time to pull off the grounds before their safety or any property are affected. From there, they close until the water levels go down and focus on cleaning up the damage after. That includes picking up debris, washing out the concrete pedestals used for parking campers, and lots of raking.

“It’s a lot of man hours,” Smith said, adding that friends and long-time customers pitch in to help the family. “Depending upon the situation, we have equipment and tractors that we can bring in too.”

Smith said they’ve gotten “pretty good” at reading forecasts, since the levels depend on weather patterns in the area. Though it’s an inconvenience, she said they prepare well.

“We know if the levels are at a certain height to take action,” she said. “We take a vigilant look at the gauges.”

In Evansville, the river levels were not as bad. Portions of Main Street were under water Monday as was the ConAgra property on the riverfront. No homes had been affected.

Casseau said that’s the most important thing when it comes to flooding: being responsive.

“It’s all about preparedness,” she said. “It’s all about knowing the risks and making risk-informed decisions. That starts with living next to a levee every day as a resident and goes to every agency involved in response to any kind of emergency, from the city, county, state and federal levels.”

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.
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