State and federal officials in Illinois will use a $95.2 million grant to stabilize levees that protect Metro East communities.
The St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers and local levee districts have been trying over the last decade to prevent water from seeping under and behind the five levees that protect Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties in Illinois. Scientists expect flood risks along the Mississippi River to rise due to climate change and hard structures, such as levees, that push water to surrounding communities.
The Corps of Engineers and local levee district officials recently restored the levees’ ability to protect against 100-year floods, which have a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. The latest federal investment through the Water Resources Development Act will strengthen the levee system to the 500-year level, which protects against floods that have a 0.2 percent chance of happening in any given year.
“We’re not raising any levees,” said Chuck Etwert, chief supervisor of construction and works at the Southwestern Illinois Flood-Prevention District Council. “We’re just stabilizing them, improving them to prevent that seepage either through the levees or underneath the levees.”
Local and federal officials expect to complete the work in 2022. It will involve building cut-off walls, relief wells, berms and pump systems to stabilize the levees.
In 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Metro East levee districts that the levees would lose the agency’s 100-year flood-protection accreditation unless they addressed the underseepage problems. Without FEMA accreditation, residents and businesses would have to purchase flood insurance. Local lawmakers said that losing accreditation would have been an economic disaster for the region.
Since then, state and federal agencies have spent more than $170 million to repair the levees.
“We have seen steady job growth over the past two years,” Madison County board chairman Kurt Prenzler said. “We do have really something to protect. We have pipelines, we have railroads, we have tremendous infrastructure.”
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