Madison County is keeping an eye on its flood risk this spring, but officials are hopeful areas behind the levees will remain dry.
“We were initially told we could experience moderate to low-level flooding,” Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Todd Fulton said. “The latest levels are showing that the flooding will be much lower than expected. At this point it’s not even in the moderate flooding levels.”
The National Weather Service stated that flooding in the Metro East would not be as severe as earlier predicted. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned local officials earlier that there could be an above normal chance of the Mississippi River reaching high to moderate flood stages mid-April due to the snow melt in the north and possible spring rains.
“We’ve got 90,000 sandbags if we need them,” Fulton said. “I don’t think we will, but we also have the resources in place and communication with all the county’s fire departments and the state’s Emergency Service Disaster Agency just in case.”
Chairman Kurt Prenzler said it’s good to hear that the flood predictions changed. He said however, due to work on the levees within the county — Wood River Drainage and Levee System and Metro East Sanitary District — they are in good shape to handle the high waters.
“The goal was to get to the 100-year flood stage,” Prenzler said. “With help from the Corps we’ve done that and are now moving forward to bring the levee system to a 500-year flood protection level.”
The federal government, along with the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, are planning to spend more another $130 million to upgrade the levees during the next three to four years. The projects will include new relief wells, upgrading cutoff walls, ditching and pipe collector systems, a seepage pump work on a lift station, seepage berms, among other things, with the majority of the work done between Cahokia and Edwardsville.
The Corps is set to pay for 65 percent of the work through the Water Resources Development Act. The flood prevention council will cover the remaining 35 percent brought in by a local sales tax, which voters in Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties approved.
Prenzler said that 100-year level work took place in order to maintain Federal Emergency Management Agency accreditation. The accreditation prevented an increase in flood insurance rates for the thousands of residents and businesses located behind the levees.
He said to date the investment to improve the levees is approximately $170 million. By 2022, upgrades on the 500-year level should be complete.
Fulton said he is not as concerned about a breach in the levees, but more about flooding in low-lying areas such as Alton’s riverfront or drainage areas where water cannot recede.
“Outside of Alton, most of what we see is caused by ‘interior flooding’,” he said. “It’s the flooding that takes place behind the levee systems and is caused by clogged ditches and high levels in the creeks because they are unable to drain into the river or nearby lakes.”
Prenzler said that the flooding issues in the low-lying areas within MESD are not as bad as in past years. He said improvements were made with storm water and drainage systems in both MESD and the county’s Special Services Area No.1, preventing properties within Choteau and Nameoki townships from flooding, plus Horseshoe Lake was lowered to accommodate the increase in water flow.
Fulton said as a reminder anyone whose property has flooded in the past should prepare for it to happen again.
The county’s EMA is planning to hold an emergency coordinator/elected official spring flooding briefing within the next two weeks. The NWS will be present information, along with the Corps and Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
“We will know well in advance what to expect, so we want to prepare people for what’s coming,” he said.