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Floodplains, the Alton Levee update

The Alton Levee above Lock and Dam 26

I  made my annual February trip to Riverlands and passed the leaky levee at Alton, where workers seemed to be progressing on the repairs to control the seepage that is undermining the levee. It seems the bill for repairs will be three times the estimate of $40 million. The Corps is paying the bill for these repairs, made necessary by the construction of Lock and Dam 26, which raised the water level behind the dam and there for the water table in the floodplain.

John Hay/Sny Island Day Use Area

Yesterday, I blogged on the history of Sny Island, where the construction of Lock and Dam 24 raised the water level behind the dam and the water table on the floodplain, Sny Island. Soon, I will write a piece on the Ted Shanks Conservation Area, across the river from Sny Island, where the construction of Lock and Dam 24 raised the water level behind the dam and the water table in the refuge.


Grassy Lake in the American Bottom at Wood River, Illinois. All the uses of the bottoms: Oil Refinery, wheat field, and wetlands.

South of Alton and Wood River, the Corps of Engineers has determined that the 500-year levee that protects the American Bottom as far south as Columbia, Illinois may not protect this vast industrialized and heavily populated floodplain from even a 100-year flood. Think the Flood of 1993. If the Corps decertifies the levees, flood insurance rates in the region will skyrocket or be unavailable. Pat Gauen in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains the problem very well.

So how did we get here. Before 2005 we thought our levees throughout the nation were adequate, would protect our floodplains from 100-year floods.

Then came Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans and we began to wonder if levees along the Mississippi, levees in California, levees everywhere would protect us for 100-year floods, 500-year floods in urban areas.

In light of Katrina, the Bush administration asked for and got a thirty million dollar supplemental funding request to initiate a national levee inventory and assessment program to be conducted by the Corps of Engineers. The inventory found the levees everywhere inadequate.

In trying to track down a history of levees, the National Flood Insurance Program, and FEMA ,I came across a history of levees by Gerald Galloway,  who headed the Interagency team that reported on the Flood of 1993 and published Sharing the Challenge. His recommendations are so reasonable. He is a believer in allowing floodplains to do their work in absorbing floods and in protecting urban areas, like the urbanized portions of the American Bottom, with 500-year levees.

For a tour of the Riverlands on the riverside of the levee, go to TwoTankTours.com and download the Riverlands tour for $7.


One Response

  1. […] is worth looking back at my post of two weeks ago on levees and Gerald Galloway’s history of levees and his recommendations, […]

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