HANNIBAL – More than 50 people gathered at the Quality Inn & Suites in Hannibal to talk about their concerns with flooding, sediment and drought management along the Upper Mississippi River.
Brian Stenquist, a strategic planner with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was the facilitator for the meeting. This is the first of six such meetings being hosted by a group of people from the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, which is seeking input from the various concerned parties about what solutions might be made available for alleviating the flooding that seems to be occurring more frequently along the river.
UMRBA is comprised of members from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the five states on the Upper Mississippi River—Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
In their invitation, UMRBA stated what it hoped to accomplish with the meetings:
• To bring together local residents and local leaders to talk with each other about how local actions can address important river issues, such as flooding, channel maintenance, sediment management, and long-term drought.
• To learn what local residents and local leaders think needs to be done to address important issues the river poses to local communities.
• To be able to incorporate local ideas and local actions into a future regional resilience plan for the river.
Although they were not supposed to talk during the open-meetings, members from the Army Corps of Engineers did indicate their willingness to listen to the problems facing the various parties most affected by flooding, sediment buildup and drought.
Stenquist had those who were willing to lead discussion groups write their topics on flip-chart paper and put them up on the wall so those present could decide which discussion they wanted to attend.
Most of group agreed that flood management would be the topic of choice, but Stenquist said there were probably various aspects to the topic that could be broken down for a more focused discussions.
In their breakout sessions, one group discussed floodplain development and the rules of enforcement and accountability.
Several of the people in this group were farmers, who still have land under water.
Nancy Guyton, a resident of Pike County, was extremely vocal about what she says is how some farmers farther up the river have illegally raise their levees. She was upset that there were no actionable rules in place to prevent levees from being raised so high that they violate the law, and without any real enforcement.
“The Army Corps of Engineers can’t do anything about this,” she said. About 1,200 acres of her farm in Pike County is still under water, she added.
“I follow the rules, I obey the law,” she said, adding that it was possible for her to raise her farm’s levees, but then she would have to pay restitution to those farther downstream affected by floodwaters.
Some of the farmers from the Illinois side of the river said that they received permission from their state to raise their levees, so what they were doing was legal.
Some thoughts on what to do were discussed in one of the other sessions. The topic was providing room for the river, meaning giving the river more room to spread out and reduce the instances of flooding.
Ideas about holding structures for river detention were brought up. Iowa has a plan in place, with structures that can handle 80 percent of the storm flow. A report done by Larry Weber with the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa was cited for this idea.
There was also discussion of levee set backs, pushing the levees farther inland, giving the river more room to spread out. Complications from this would be reduced farmland, a change in wildlife habitat and the possibility of crop destruction if farmers decide to plant crops in the area between the levees and the river. Some of the people said there were inherent problems with this idea, because many bridges and towns would still be subject to flooding even if the levees were moved. And there would still be some bottlenecks in these areas where river flow would be restricted.
It came down to what would cause the least loss of life and or destruction of property/crops? It was clear to those present that the issue was complicated and would need more discussion.
At the end of the sessions, the entire group came back together to talk about how they felt the various sessions went. Most were pleased with the effort being made by all parties to listen to each other and take a longer view on how to prevent more flooding and sedimentation buildup.
There will be five more such meeting taking place between now and Aug. 24. They will be:
July 20 in Muscatine, Iowa, at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center.
July 27 in Dubuque, Iowa, at the Grand River Center.
Aug. 3 in Winona, Minn., at the Minnesota State College SE.
Aug. 24 in Godfrey, Ill., at the Lewis and Clark Community College.
Sept. 7 in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at the Southeast Missouri State University.
Doors will open at 8:30 a.m. The events will begin at 9 a.m. and end no later than 4 p.m. Lunches will be provided at no cost.
Visit UMRBA’s website for more information at http://umrba.org/umrs-floodplain-resilience-plan.htm.