A large Illinois levee district well to the north of St. Louis along the Mississippi River recently was told by the State of Illinois to lower its levees, offer a mitigation plan for potential flooding --- or face legal action.
The state's Department of Natural Resources and other government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have accused the Sny Island Levee Drainage District of building levees that exceed state and federal rules for managing the Mississippi River.
If the levees aren't reverted back to lower specifications or plans aren't made to deal with the potential flooding that could result from the higher levees, the fiscal impact to local Illinois communities could be profound, said Loren Wobig of the DNR's water resources division.
"When you get those large events, depending on the depth of flooding, the damage could run into the millions," Wobig said.
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Wobig said levees are intended to shield unprotected areas and assets along the waterway.
"You've got water-treatment plants and other properties that are unprotected along the Mississippi," Wobig said. "Of course, in the case of the Sny, you're looking at Hannibal and Quincy and some of those areas immediately upstream of their levee system."
The Sny stretches from Quincy to Belleview in Illinois.
A recent report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said a 2015 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects an additional 2.5 feet of water could inundate areas of the region because of higher volumes flowing through the Sny levees.
An Aug. 23 letter from the DNR to Sny Superintendent Mike Reed said the levee district’s work to bolster the height of its levees after flooding in 2008 was done without the state's permission.
Wobig said the DNR gave the levee district until Oct. 15 to respond.
Wobig also said the issues with the Sny levees reveal larger resource-management challenges that could be better met with a comprehensive strategy similar to that developed years ago for the southern portions of the river.
"Right now, it's kind of a 'Wild West' and everyone for themselves, whether you have a levee district in Illinois or in Iowa or in Missouri, and how high that goes, based on what state regulations will allow or not allow," Wobig said. "It's not just an Upper Mississippi regional problem, but really a national problem that needs to be addressed."