I have been living in the Clarksville area on and off since 1959. During that time, I have enjoyed the Mississippi River for recreation, its scenic beauty, its bounty of fish and wildlife, its water to drink and, of course, its insects, namely the pesky mosquitoes.
In all, it is a beautiful place to live and enjoy, except for the four major floods that I have experienced 1973, 1993, 2008 and 2019. These have inundated Clarksville with water to the extent that the town has suffered immensely from an economic point of view. Each time, a few people would leave, the surrounding farms would suffer a loss of income and buildings would become irreparable and have to be destroyed. No new buildings would be built and the population would decrease.
When I was in high school in the 1960s, the population was 750 people in the city and now, although it reads 440 people, I doubt that we have that many. We will soon find out with the new 2020 census.
During those 50 years, I have had the pleasure of camping, fishing and boating on the river and watching the landscape change. The islands would change, where one year there would be small islands scattered down the river and the next year the river would take them away. Sometimes, it would be a large Corps of Engineers dredge boat that would take them away. I remember when you could go behind the islands with a boat and ski and fish on water that was like glass, with the white cranes fishing in the shallows.
What a beautiful time it was.
Now the Corps of Engineers, which is employed in the task of making the river navigable for the big barges that carry product up and down the river, have dammed and diked the river to such an extent that the sloughs are silting. Because of the large floods, the Illinois Sny Levy district keeps building their levies higher and thicker to hold back the flood waters to save their crop lands.
In turn, the great Mississippi River back-waters on the Missouri side create ever higher floods with longer durations on the small towns that live along its banks. Sometimes it is the Illinois towns that get flooded and the levies are on the Missouri side, protecting the farmland on that side, depending on the terrain on the river.
This story goes on up and down the river from state to state. How high do you build your levies and how much does it effect the people living on the other side? I am sure that if you ask the levy builders they would say we will build them has high as it takes to keep the water out! But what can you do about the historical towns along the back-water side, with their infrastructure, history and living space. Which is more important?
They are both important, but there should be limits. I am not smart enough to determine the limits, but I do know that four 100-year floods in the span of 46 years is too much and something has to change. Maybe the hydro engineers can figure it out if they are given the chance and resources to do so.
Here is the dictionary definition of “BACK-WATER: That water in a stream which, in consequence of some obstruction below, is detained or checked in its course, or reflows.”
Every riparian owner is entitled to the benefit of the water in its natural state. Whenever, therefore, the owner of land dams or impedes the water in such a manner as to back it on his neighbor above, he is liable to an action; for no one has a right to alter the level of the water, either where it enters, or where it leaves his property.
It is my opinion that Clarksville cannot survive with a portable flood wall that covers two to three city blocks and leaves the remainder of the town exposed. We need a permanent earthen levy that protects the whole town, its properties and its people.
Some will say that we will lose the beautiful view of the river! We might retain the view, but there will be no residents to enjoy that view if we continue to do the same thing over and over. Property values will continue to decline as the economy of Clarksville declines. Residents will move out, creating shortages in tax revenue for basic services. Businesses will close for lack of business. Banks will not loan on properties that are exposed to the river without protection. Flood insurance premiums are increasing exponentially as the risks of flooding increase to the point that the premiums are now unaffordable.
This scenario is now occurring and unless we act, the flooding will continue and get worse over time. Other towns with more resources have built earthen levies with flood gates to access the river. These include the Missouri towns of Hannibal and Washington and even downtown St. Louis. Some have addressed the view of the river by making steps, walking paths, benches and landscaping to enhance the view of the river from the top of the levies.
Let us rethink the portable wall advocated by the current City of Clarksville administration and pursue a more permanent solution that includes everyone by building a earthen levy that surrounds the whole town.
— Stephen A. Jones
410 South Second St., Clarksville