Despite record flooding in parts of Missouri last month, levees along the Mississippi River, and the Carlyle Lake reservoir, performed as designed, resulting in significantly less damage in Illinois, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
There was an initial estimate of $8 million in damage to public infrastructure in Madison County, mostly in Granite City, Alton and along the Great River Road north to Grafton, and $2.1 million in damage in St. Clair County, according to emergency management officials in both counties.
An estimated 11 inches of rain fell in the St. Louis area from Dec. 26-28, causing widespread flooding on both sides of the river. Most of the heavy damage was found in the Meramec Valley in Missouri and the Alton area in Illinois.
St. Clair County Director of the Emergency Management Agency Herb Simmons said most of the damage in his county was to roads, pumping facilities, and through soil erosion.
Madison County Emergency Management Director Larry Ringering said that county’s $8 million initial damage assessment to the state also included costs for putting sandbags in downtown Alton, as well damage to roads and sewer systems.
There also were reports of cracked foundation, damage to appliances and water removal from basements in private residences that are not included in the public figures.
As water continues to recede, the counties continue to gather cost estimates, Ringering said.
These reported initial damage assessments will be used to determine whether a federal disaster area declaration will be made.
If there is $18.1 million worth of damage across the state, the state emergency management agency could apply for federal assistance to help local governments. Each county would need to meet a threshold of $3.56 times the county’s population.
Initial assessments from counties were due to the state on Monday, but the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is reaching out to local agencies to verify and finalize numbers and make sure the state has the best information possible, said Patti Thompson, IEMA spokeswoman.
IEMA has until Feb. 12 to make a decision on whether to request federal assistance, Thompson said.
All the levees performed as we expected up to a designed height.
Russell Errett, hydraulic engineer for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Federal Emergency Management Agency uses a formula to determine whether states and local governments can handle a disaster on their own.
Despite the damage caused by flooding on the Illinois side of the river, overall, the levees performed well.
The Mississippi River reached 42.5 feet — seven feet below the 1993 flood levels. The 42.5 feet represents a 38-year-flood, said Russell Errett a hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“All the levees performed as we expected up to a designed height,” Errett said.
The river would have to reach 46.1 feet for it to be considered a 100-year flood.
In the Wood River Levee District, flood gates had to be closed on Dec. 27, which closed Illinois 3 in Hartford. District officials also closed flood gates in East Alton and put in place 1,000 sandbags to keep water back and protect businesses and property along the river, said Steve Kochan, president of the Wood River Levee District.
“If you don’t get that stopped in East Alton, you will start having problems,” Kochan said. “When you have 11 inches plus of rain, there’s no place for it to go. It’s all backed up.”
Kochan, too, said there were no issues with levees during the latest flood event.
“Everything worked as planned,” he said.
Walter Greathouse III, the operations superintendent for the Metro-East Sanitary District, said the district had to start running pumps to move water in the middle of December. Pumping operations ended on Wednesday, he added.
“It was a crazy amount of water,” said Greathouse, son of the late Walter “Shang” Greathouse, who headed the district for decades.
Greathouse said he had never seen flooding on both sides of the levees at the same time.
$44.6 million Amount of work performed by the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council to bring levees to a 100-year flood level
$71.6 million Total amount of work planned by the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council to bring levees to a 100-year flood level
The sanitary district closed flood gates at Triple Lakes Road in Cahokia and one by the Casino Queen. The gates were then sealed with plastic and sandbags to prevent water from seeping in.
“It was very good, considering where we could have been,” Greathouse said. “Everything worked very well.”
In recent years, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council has been working to bring the area’s levees up to the 100-year flood prevention level, and eventually will work toward a 500-year flood prevention level.
In 2009, to help pay for levee restoration costs, St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties instituted a quarter-cent sales tax, which brings in about $11 million a year.
Restoring the levees to the 100-year flood level allows them to be accredited by FEMA and avoids higher flood insurance rates for private property owners. The Army Corps of Engineers also was authorized to increase the levee protection level to the 500-year flood level.
Work on bringing the levees up to the 100-year-flood protection level is scheduled to be completed by September.
The flood prevention district has completed $44.6 million worth of work out of a total $71.6 million project. Work includes putting in relief wells, deep cut off walls and clay caps, among other things over nine separate projects.
So far two of the nine projects have been completed and seven remain in progress, said Chuck Etwert, chief supervisor of construction and the works for the levee district. Work had to be put on hold for a few weeks last month because of the high water levels.
Bringing levees up to the 100-year level is on the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District’s dime.
“What we’re doing is protecting the area from the Mississippi River,” Etwert said.
What we’re doing is protecting the area from the Mississippi River.
Chuck Etwert with Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council
Flooding concerns weren’t just along the Mississippi River.
Errett, of the corps of engineers, said the corps had the challenge of managing flood waters in Shelbyville and Carlyle lakes. The corps was able to be aggressive in the amount of water it held in the reservoirs, and was able to hold back a lot more water than it does normally, Errett said.
However, the rising reservoir closed some roads in nearly Eldon Hazlett State Park, closing the park for a time.
By contrast, there are no flood control reservoirs along the Meramec River in Missouri and “whatever (rain) fell went into the streams and rivers,” Errett said.
In the 1970s, voters rejected a plan to dam up the Meramec River at Sullivan, Mo., which would be created a man-made reservoir to be used for recreation and flood control.
Now that the crest has passed, the corps will be doing a controlled release of water from the storage basins, which Errett said would take “quite a while” to complete.
The winter drawdown is expected to last until mid- to late March, as it will take a couple of months to evacuate the water when assuming normal rainfall, he said.
Errett added there are some low-lying areas and crop land that typically flood during the winter and still have water on them right now, but no homes are flooded.
“They will be flooded for much longer than they normally do,” Errett said.
Because of the wet winter, Errett said he expects a wet spring and summer.
As the waters come down, levee workers are assessing damages or wear and tear done to levees from the flood, and are working to get them repaired for the spring flood season.
“We want to expedite repairs to damage that happened so the levees are prepared for spring flood season,” he said.
What is a levee?
- Levees are usually made of earth. The natural movement of a body of water pushes sediment to the side, creating a natural levee. The banks of a river are often slightly elevated from the river bed.
- The banks form levees made of sediment, silt, and other materials pushed aside by the flowing water. Levees are usually parallel to the way the river flows, so levees can help direct the flow of the river.
Source: National Geographic Society