Flooding | St. Louis Public Radio

Flooding

An art installation in Granite City showing casts of driftwood from flood events.
Meghan Grubb

In an industrial, desolate block of Granite City, artists are presenting videos, photography and sculptures that depict environmental problems in the St. Louis area.

The 18 pieces that comprise Art + Landscape STL are on display the Granite City Art and Design District, a converted area of former retail and outdoor spaces along State Street. Some works, like a ring of stacked sandbags, allude to flooding along the Mississippi River.

A table of objects that include a map of where radioactive Manhattan Project waste had been dumped in north St. Louis County refers to toxic-waste sites. The exhibits will be on display for the next four weekends.

Kaci Dalton helped residents fill sandbags on Starling Airport Road in Arnold in May 2017.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Federal officials are encouraging St. Louis residents to enroll in flood insurance, in anticipation of a potentially severe flood season.

Most homeowners and renters-insurance policies don’t cover flooding, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers flood insurance to residents in thousands of U.S. cities, including St. Louis. The program — which dates back to the late 1960s — sets insurance rates based on building location, age and other factors.

Response to repeated floods: Good cops and bad

Mar 10, 2019

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2011 - In 1973, St. Louis experienced record high flood levels, even though many earlier floods had posted higher flows. In a prescient paper the late Prof. Charles Belt of Saint Louis University explained that the progressive constriction of our rivers by levees and by in-channel navigational structures called wing dikes caused of the unexpected high water. Belt was criticized in a series of papers authored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which proceeded to enlarge levees and build new wing dikes in the river's channel.

The Great Flood of '93 swept blankets of sand onto a Missouri River flood plain near Berger, Missouri.
Provided by Bob Holmes

Scientists who have studied the historic 1993 flood agree that a similar event could strike the St. Louis region again. But they disagree on how likely it could occur.

St. Louis Public Radio's science and environment reporter Eli Chen and John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, joined Thursday's segment to talk about the effects climate change is having in the region.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A national climate report issued Friday predicts a bleak picture for the state and region as a result of climate change: increased flooding, hotter temperatures and intensified storms – all of which can hurt the agriculture industry, infrastructure and human productivity.

St. Louis Public Radio's science and environment reporter Eli Chen joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to expand on how climate change is affecting the state, as well as what is being done to try and prevent its most harmful effects.

An illustration of climate change's impacts in St. Louis, Missouri.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A national climate report released last Friday from 13 federal agencies predicts increased flooding and hotter temperatures in Midwestern states like Missouri — and that unless carbon emissions are significantly reduced, changing climate patterns could be costly.

Colin Wellenkamp (L) and Rick Eberlin (R) joined host Don Marsh to discuss flooding along the Mississippi River.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Remembrances of the Great Flood of ’93 often focus on St. Louis, but many other cities and towns along the Mississippi River faced consequences.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, the mayors of Grafton, Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, joined host Don Marsh to talk about what their communities are doing 25 years after the big event. Their stories represent differences in the way cities have coped with the threat of flooding.

A community chorus rehearses for a performance of "The Flood," a concert musical about the effect of the Great Flood of '93 on the village of Valmeyer. July, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A community chorus stood shoulder to shoulder, 30 members strong, on the sanctuary steps of St. John United Church of Christ in Valmeyer, Illinois, on a recent Monday evening. Sopranos, altos, baritones — their voices blended as one — rising and falling with lyrics inspired by the Great Flood of '93.

The words weigh heavily on those in the group who experienced firsthand the Valmeyer flood. They remember as if it were yesterday, that steamy, chaotic summer spent shoveling sand into thousands of bags and heaving them onto earthen levees that had protected their little town for half a century.

This time, the Mississippi River won.

Michael Bauermeister works on a piece in his studio in early July. July, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Along Augusta Bottom Road, in rural St. Charles County, sits the town of Nona. A century-old general store is about all that’s left, and Michael Bauermeister, its owner.

More than three decades ago Bauermeister converted the building into his woodshop. He and his wife, Gloria, brought their two young sons here in 1987. Michael set up the shop on the main floor, and he and his family lived in the 900-square foot apartment above.

Floodwaters climb up the steps in front of the Gateway Arch during the Great Flood of 1993.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

On Aug. 1, 1993, the Mississippi River crested at 49.58 feet in St. Louis, nearly 20 feet above flood stage, breaking previous records. At the flood’s peak, more than a million cubic feet of water passed the Gateway Arch each second.

In west St. Louis County, the entire Chesterfield valley, then known as Gumbo Flats, was under water as the Missouri River overflowed its levees. On the east side of the Mississippi, the entire town of Valmeyer, Illinois, was destroyed, and rather than rebuilding, the citizens moved to a new location.

As a result of the Great Flood of ’93, residents were evacuated, homes and businesses were lost, and people all over the region joined in the sandbagging efforts to prevent further devastation.

The Sny Island Levee System in Illinois is one of 10 levee systems that have exceeded their authorized heights, according to a survey conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island District this year.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are supporting northeast Missouri residents' suspicions that overbuilt levees along the Upper Mississippi River have led to increased flooding for vulnerable communities. 

The Corps of Engineers last spring surveyed levee heights in the Rock Island District, which runs from Keokuk, Iowa, to Thebes, Illinois, and discovered that 40 percent of the levees exceeded regulation. The federal agency released a model at the end of January that measured the impact the overbuilt levees have on river flooding. The model, however, requires an experienced engineer to operate, so environmental advocacy group American Rivers hired a consultant to do so this month.

Arnold residents pile sandbags over a manhole to try to prevent sewage from mixing with floodwater. May 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

More people in Missouri are at risk of experiencing damage from heavy rainfall and river flooding, according to a study released Wednesday.

A stormwater drain.
KOMU via Flickr

St. Louis-area residents may see a new fee on their sewer bills at the beginning of 2020. That's because the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District wants to impose a new fee to help fund efforts to resolve flooding and erosion issues in its service area. 

In a proposal MSD submitted to its independent rate commission on Monday, the district estimates the cost of resolving the region's stormwater runoff issues to be $560 million. The plan would charge an average of $2.25 per household per month, or $27 per year. The more surface area a property has that can't absorb water, the higher the fee. According to MSD projections, the new fee would generate $30 million per year for 30 years.

Eureka residents fill sandbags outside Eureka High School in April in preparation for the Meramec River's rising waters. Flooding this spring caused about $1.5 million in damage to the school, according to the district.
Provided | Rockwood School District

St. Louis County is one of the highest-risk counties in the United States for flooding in schools, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report released Tuesday.

The 100 most at-risk counties identified in the report have 6,444 schools educating nearly 4 million students. Three of those are in St. Louis County, and one of them, Eureka High School, has flooded twice in as many years.

A view of the Mississippi River from Dubuque, IA, where government agencies, environmentalists, engineers and residents gathered to discuss flood risks along the upper Mississippi River.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Communities along the upper Mississippi River have seen a major uptick in heavy rains and flooding in the last decade.

Residents, environmentalists, engineers and government agencies agree that they need a coordinated strategy to manage flooding. That could be particularly important in coming years, as scientists predict that climate change will likely bring more heavy rain to the region.

The Sny Island Levee System in Illinois is one of 10 levee systems that have exceeded their authorized heights, according to a survey conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island District this year.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Nancy Guyton has lived by the Mississippi River her entire life. She and her husband farm in Annada, a small town on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. She knows that growing crops on the floodplain comes with some risks.

The Guytons’ farm, about 65 miles north of St. Louis, endured major floods along the Mississippi in 1993 and 2008. But since 2008, she’s noticed more flood events.

Eureka resident Sharon Wasson sits in her basement, which still hasn't been completely put back together after the severe flooding that occurred in May.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Two months ago, retired physical education teacher and Eureka resident Sharon Wasson spent four days trying to keep sewer water from entering her basement. An armada of blower fans covered the floor. Members of Eureka High School’s football and wrestling teams packed the place, pumping water out of Wasson’s house.

Two months later, the basement where she once spent most of her time is still a work in progress. Having dealt with the major flooding in May and in December 2015, Wasson is conflicted about staying in Eureka.

Kaci Dalton, 16, helps residents fill sandbags on Starling Airport Road in Arnold. “My other house used to flood so I know how it feels,” she said. “So I’m just trying to help out.”
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area residents who are recovering from flooding can get help with cleaning up, filing insurance claims and finding counseling all in one place in the coming days.

Local, state and federal disaster specialists still are assessing the size and scope of damage throughout Missouri from the flooding and storms. Gov. Eric Greitens said Wednesday it's part of the state's application seeking a federal disaster declaration.

Crews remove hundreds of sandbags Sunday morning at the Steak 'n Shake in Valley Park. The city's mayor tells St. Louis Public Radio the sand wall at the fastfood restaurant near I-44 and Route 141 did not hold during last week's flood.
Wayne Pratt| St. Louis Public Radio

"I'm just happy the residents are back in their homes."

That is how Valley Park Mayor Mike Pennise summed up several days of battling the rising Meramec River, west of St. Louis. He issued a mandatory evacuation order for part of the city of roughly 7,000 last week as residents and emergency officials prepared for a second round of major flooding in roughly a year and a half.

Ryan LaPlant, 13, helps pile sandbags near his grandparents’ house in Arnold. May 2017
Carolina Hidalgo / St Louis Public Radio

This week, residents of the St. Louis metropolitan area have been doused with several waves of heavy rainfall, resulting in flooding across the region.

South of St. Louis, Arnold, Fenton, Eureka and Pacific have been particularly hard hit. Similar areas were flooded in December of 2015.

While the Meramec River, which was responsibile for the flooding in that area has crested and is receding, the Missouri River at St. Charles is cresting today and the Mississippi River from Alton down will be cresting from today through tomorrow. 

Ongoing rain and the threat of more flooding kept downtown Eureka business owners from removing piles of sandbags Thursday morning, as planned. (May 4, 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sharon Wasson, a Eureka resident and retired high school physical education teacher, treats her basement as her sanctuary. It’s where her office is, where she watches the news and where she decompresses after a long day.

But severe flooding this week along the lower Meramec River has transformed her basement into a source of stress. 

I-55 and westbound I-44 reopen as floodwaters recede

May 4, 2017
Waters continue to rise around I-55 near Butler Hill on Wednesday morning. May 2017
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 4 at 7 p.m. with information about West Alton — Officials with the Rivers Pointe Fire Protection District are urging residents east of Highway 67 in West Alton who plan to evacuate, particularly those who are elderly or have a disability, to do so immediately. Those planning to ride out the flooding, officials said in a Facebook post, should secure provisions.

Arnold residents pile sandbags over a manhole to try to prevent sewage from mixing with floodwater. May 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A second round of heavy rain rolled through the already soaked and flooded St. Louis metro area Wednesday, leading to longer school closures and heightened worries among affected residents.

Up to 4 inches of rain is expected through Thursday evening, further frustrating travelers who rely on two major interstates in the area. Even so, rivers in the area are forecast to crest Wednesday.

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Meramec River is expected to crest at 40 feet on Wednesday, posing a threat to low-lying communities, including Valley Park, Eureka, Fenton and Kirkwood. 

As water levels rise along the same communities that were badly impacted by flooding in early 2016, some local environmentalists say that levees are responsible for the severe floods residents in the St. Louis area have experienced in recent years.

Rising rivers threaten St. Louis area towns, roads

Apr 30, 2017
Pallets full of sandbags that stayed dry during the floods sit in the parking lot of City Hall in Valley Park in January 2016.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 1 with new road closure information - Rising rivers in the St. Louis area that are already threatening homes and businesses will also cause major traffic headaches for at least the rest of this week.

More than 70 roads have been closed in the area due to engorged rivers and streams. (See a complete list here.) Officials say more will be added to the list this week. That includes Interstate 44, which will close in both directions at Route 141 Monday night. Missouri Department of Transportation engineer  Tom Blair says it will mark the third spot on the interstate to close since the heavy rains hit the state this past weekend.

Residents of Pacific looked out at their flooded-out town in early January.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Walter Wolfner was not prepared for the impact that last year's heavy rains would have on his business, the Riverside Golf Club in Fenton. 

"The velocity of the water was so great that it picked up sand from the Meramec River and deposited it on the golf course," Wolfner said "I mean, we'd never seen things like that before." 

While he managed to clear off all the debris from the golf course, which is adjacent to the river, it took three months to rebuild the clubhouse, which had to be completely gutted and rewired. 

The state of Missouri estimated that more than 7,000 structures were damaged by last winter's heavy rains. Like Wolfner, cities and many residents along the Meramec, Missouri and Mississippi rivers have been trying to recover and rebuild. 

Mississippi River, dredging, Eads
Rachel Heidenry | 2008 file photo

A $9 billion bill in Congress that could improve waterway navigation and water systems in Missouri is a step closer to being signed into law.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 399-25 to approve the Water Resources Development Act — in a rare show of bipartisan support. The Senate passed its version of the bill earlier last month. 

The Water Resources Development Act, authorized every two years, gives the green light to the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation, water quality and work on other water projects.

The Fenton Water Treatment Plant was knocked offline due to historic flooding.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Valley Park levee in St. Louis County may have been built too high, according to new findings from a private engineering firm hired by a conservation group.

The report by Pickett, Ray and Silver Inc. commissioned by the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, concluded that four locations along the levee exceeded the maximum height allowed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is 435 feet above sea level. One spot surpassed the standard by 8 feet.

Map of major watersheds in the St. Louis area.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

The "cloud burst" that drenched a mid-section of St. Louis County with nearly four inches of rain early Monday morning is only part of why local streams and creeks swelled their banks, flooding businesses and several busy streets.

Forecasters called it a 25-year rain event, but similar flooding took place just eight months ago and to many county residents it's also reminiscent of flooding in 2008.

Residents of Pacific looked out at their flooded-out town in early January.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

In the months after floods swept through his hometown of Fenton  just after Christmas, Scott Bayliff and 16 crisis counselors from the mental health center Places for People were on the ground to help.

“We ask them how they’re doing, assess them for the signs of trauma, signs of depression, worsening sleep, anxiety, increased substance use,” Bayliff said. “We’re here to listen. We knew a lot of people were just overwhelmed, and they just needed someone.”

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