Politics

Midwest deals with rising water, record-setting floods in some areas

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Heavy rains sent the Illinois River out of its banks in LaSalle, Ill., this spring. (Photo by Pam Broviak via Flickr, cc-by-sa-nc.)

As the city of Boston picks up the pieces from last week’s bombing, and Texas struggles with droughts and the aftermath of its own explosions, the Midwest faces some of the worst flooding in decades.

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Near St. Louis, 11 barges sank last week on the Mississippi River. In Grafton, Ill., the Mississippi is more than 11 feet above flood stage. That said, Grafton and St. Louis are still several feet away from breaking records. But in Grand Rapids, Mich., people in office buildings have seen fish and ducks swimming by their windows. The Grand River surpassed a 65-year-old record for high water a few days ago — though the water has started to recede. 

Meanwhile, in Clarksville, Mo., a small town without any levees, the damage is still being assessed. Nathalie Pettus owns the Overlook Farm and Inns, which is located directly on the Mississippi River in Clarksville. Pettus says her farm is expecting to hold a wedding at its location this weekend — so she's hoping the waters continue to fall. The river has fallen nearly two feet since it crested Monday morning.

"We have to build levees every time this occurs here," Pettus said. "That's an issue. We are the last remaining riverfront business district that is unimpeded by a levy. But I think we're going to have to take a look at this now."

Businesses and residents in Clarksville are packing up and leaving, Pettus said — which may finally force the town to do something about its water problem.

Ironically, Clarksville's problems are exacerbated by the number of other Mississippi River towns with levees. The more levees that go up, the more water pressure is put on areas that are unprotected.

"After the 2008 flood here, there were competing levees being built on the Illinois side and the Missouri side," she said. "It's crazy. We all need to get together ... to have a strategic plan so that we're all safe."

Pettus has built her own levee for her property, around the 20 acres she has that are in a low-lying area. And so far she's managed to stay open for business, too. But some of her neighbors haven't been so fortunate.