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Treaty in Levee Wars Called Crucial for Saving Lives

The Mississippi River separates Illinois and Missouri.  (Ken Lund/Flickr)
The Mississippi River separates Illinois and Missouri. (Ken Lund/Flickr)
April 12, 2018

ST. LOUIS – Environmental regulators are racing to find an even balance in the ongoing battle over the heights of flood-control levees.

The Army Corps of Engineers has figured out what locals have long suspected – when one town tries to protect itself against flooding, the problem gets worse for its neighbors.

Jonathan Remo is an associate professor of geography at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus. He says the "Levee Wars" have been going on for some time in places such as Pike County, but now the Army Corps has data to support those claims.

"It's become an issue,” says Remo. “So what this does when you increase your levee height in one place, it pushes that water that would normally overtop that levee into someone else’s area. "

A recent report from ProPublica found some districts on the opposite side of the Mississippi River are overbuilding levees against regulations, resulting in farms being flooded in Missouri.

While some say simply fixing existing structures will help ease flood risks, research shows the problems today are a result of human engineering of the river. Remo says an equitable solution really comes down to the Army Corps beefing up its enforcement power to keep everyone in check.

"The public in general needs to encourage the Army Corps to hold the line here because, if they don't, it's going to be the Wild West and everyone is going to do what they want,” says Remo.

Impacted communities are starting to see results of studies examining the issue.

The Army Corps developed a $500,000 computer model to simulate how flooding affects the upper Mississippi. The results showed if a massive flooding event such as the great flood of 1993 hits, areas with higher levees, such as Illinois, will be much drier than communities along the Missouri side of the river.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO