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Floodwaters Inundate Missouri And Illinois River Towns

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo
Winfield Foley Fire Protection District
The main levee in Winfield failed Saturday morning, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.

Updated: 8:50 p.m. May 5 — with information about flood damage to an Illinois American Water plant.

Floodwaters have continued to rise over the weekend in areas along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers.

In St. Louis, the Mississippi River had reached nearly 41 feet by 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning — more than 10 feet above flood stage. The National Weather Service predicts the river will crest at 41.6 feet Monday morning.

A portion of the Mississippi River near St. Louis remains closed to all boat and barge traffic due to flooding and fast-moving currents. The closure will be lifted “as soon as conditions improve,” the U.S. Coast Guard said in a press release.

In the Metro East, floodwaters breached a levee south of Chouteau Island, near Granite City, and damaged an Illinois American Water intake facility. To conserve water, the company has asked its customers to limit all non-essential use, including running sprinklers and washing machines.

In a press release, Karen Cooper, senior manager of field operations and production for Illinois American Water's Southern Division, said crews are working to complete "critical repairs."

"While this work is completed, customer conservation of water use is critical to maintaining water service for customer needs including sanitation and fire protection," Cooper said.

In St. Charles, the Missouri River crested at 31.8 feet Saturday morning and is expected to recede below flood stage by Wednesday.

Major flooding in Alton, Illinois, forced several roads to close, including all southbound lanes of U.S. 67. The Mississippi River in Alton rose to nearly 34.4 feet by Sunday morning and will crest at 34.7 feet Monday morning.

During the Great Flood of 1993, the Mississippi crested at 42.7 feet in Alton.

In nearby Grafton, Mississippi floodwaters reached 31.4 feet Sunday morning and are expected to crest Monday morning at 31.5 feet. The river will remain above flood stage until at least May 18, according to the National Weather Service.

As of Sunday morning, Illinois Route 3 from Washington Street to Illinois Route 100 in Grafton was closed due to flooding.

Fifty miles northwest of St. Louis, the main levee in Winfield failed Saturday morning, as Mississippi floodwaters rushed into the region near Pillsbury Road — just south of the Winfield Lock & Dam.

The levee breach “was likely due to the elevated river levels that have sat against the levee for several weeks,” the Winfield Foley Fire Protection District said in a Facebook post.

The Mississippi River in Winfield is expected to crest at 36.7 feet by Sunday evening.

The National Weather Service says a series of storms this week will likely contribute to further flooding in the region.

Here’s our recent flood coverage:

Civic leaders along the Mississippi River are bracing for near-record flood levels in the coming days and weeks.

Mayors in Missouri and Illinois say federal programs that aim to prevent flood damage need more funding to adequately support river towns that face evacuation and income loss.

Flooding in Alton is expected to crest next week at 35.2 feet, the fifth-highest flood level on record, according to the National Weather Service. The river at Grafton is expected to reach the fourth-highest flood level on record for the city. River levels at both Illinois towns are expected to exceed levees and rise within 10 feet of historic levels reached during the Great Flood of ’93.

In Grafton on Friday, roads were already closing, people were already evacuating, and water was approaching the city hall, said its mayor, Rick Eberlin.

“We’re basically at wit’s end,” Eberlin said Friday in a conference call with mayors from Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. “We’re totally unprotected. Our entire length of our city is wide open, so we just have to wait and see how much debris gets pushed into our banks.”

River town mayors band together

Eberlin is among many elected officials supporting a proposal that would direct $7.8 billion into funding existing federal grants related to flood prevention. It would also establish a new federal loan program.

The proposal comes from the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a collaborative that organizes 89 mayors who want to better manage flood prevention along the Mississippi River.

The group has already pushed the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which aims to decrease natural hazards, to increase its funding. In fiscal year 2018, the program offered $235 million in funding — an increase of more than $200 million since fiscal year 2015, after which the group first successfully lobbying to increase the funding.

But that’s not enough, according to the group’s executive director, Colin Wellenkamp.

“We can’t hope to solve our flood issues within the bounds of our cities alone. The Mississippi River is a system where one part affects the other,” Wellenkamp said.

The initiative wants the federal government to create a $100 million fund for loans that would help river towns rebuild infrastructure like levies and renew wetlands and floodplains that can mitigate flood damage.

Flooding is already taking a toll

Mayors in the St. Louis region said the fund would help their towns prevent and recover from the economic damages caused by flooding.

Mayor Phil Stang of Kimmswick said that one of the city’s biggest sources of income — its strawberry festival in June — is in jeopardy this year because fields and roads have flooded.

And Alton Mayor Brant Walker said that the costs of flood protection drain the city’s coffers. The city’s revenue is also hurt because floods cause a decline in retail spending, Walker said.

“Retail in Alton is over $500 million a year,” he said. “So when we start losing the casino, portions of our downtown area, our riverfront park is under — that has significant impact on how we are able to operate and run our city.”

Cities elsewhere along the river have new natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and protected floodplains, and governments have increased spending on disaster planning.

But Wellenkamp, of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, said that he and members of the group hope Congress will still approve supplemental funding.

“We’re just getting started here in terms of the water moving south,” Wellenkamp said. Floods are expected to continue for at least another week, according to the National Weather Service.

Mayors in the St. Louis area will meet with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, a regional planning organization, and others to create a plan for managing natural disasters from 2020 to 2025.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Shahla Farzan is a PhD ecologist and science podcast editor at American Public Media. She was previously a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.