Fresh, May 2, 2023: Mississippi River Flooding Reaches Historic Levels Along Illinois-Iowa Border

May 2, 2023

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • The city of Waukesha, whose groundwater was often contaminated with radium, will receive water directly from Lake Michigan no later than this fall. 
  • In the Quad Cities area along the Illinois-Iowa border, Mississippi River flooding has reached historic levels. 
  • Midland, Michigan, is one step closer to receiving $50 million in state funds for flood mitigation and protection.
  • At a Duluth water treatment facility, rapid snowmelt and broken equipment result in wastewater discharge into the St. Louis River.

With unusual swiftness, plans to remove Nartron Dam from the Muskegon River watershed were approved. 

“That is a substantial dam in terms of elevation, flow and water amounts. It is going to fail one day. It is due for inspection this year, and will likely fail those inspections, at which time there has to be a plan to take it out.” — Scott Faulkner, Michigan River Watershed Assembly director. 

The Hersey River’s Nartron Dam, which was built in 1956 and is one of more than 100 dams in the Muskegon River watershed, was approved for removal last week, the Herald Review and Big Rapids News report. According to the Michigan River Watershed Assembly, the dam was abandoned years ago, left to crumble while warming its surrounding waters and cutting off trout populations from the rest of the watershed. 

In only 30 days, the dam’s current ownership agreed that removal was the best option, and with a 6-1 vote the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy board added its support. The entire removal process is estimated to cost between $2 million and $3 million.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • Forest to MI Faucet: Using trees to keep water sources pristine — Michigan Radio
  • Once beset by industrial pollution, Rouge River on a slow path to recovery — Bridge Michigan
  • Climate change could spell catastrophe for Detroit’s older homes — Great Lakes Now

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

Heavy Snowfall in Minnesota and Wisconsin Causes Major Flooding Downstream

Floodwaters from the Mississippi River overcame eastern Iowa and western Illinois last weekend. The river’s crest — between 16 and 22 feet in different towns along the river, from Minnesota to Iowa — was brought on by the melting of heavy snowfall from the winter and spring. 

The flooding is particularly pervasive and destructive in the Quad Cities region. Per the Quad City Times, the area passed “major flood” stage — 18 feet — last Monday, and is expected to surpass 21 feet in the coming days. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued disaster proclamations for 15 of the state’s counties, ABC News reports

Davenport, Iowa, is used to such floods — waters reached similar levels in 2019, 2014, and 2008. A local brewery, Stompbox Brewing, serves beers named “Flood Insurance” and “When the Levee Breaks” during such occasions, KCCI Des Moines reports

As of last Friday, 32 gauged locations along the river shared this “major flood” demarcation. Among the flooded areas are La Crosse, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; New Boston, Illinois; Pleasant Valley, Iowa. Freight access, due to covered rails and closed locks, is expected to be halted or greatly reduced over the next few weeks.

In the News

MIDLAND MITIGATION: $50 million from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy budget has been secured to fund flood mitigation projects in Midland, Michigan, Midland Daily News reports. Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet advocated for the funding in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it passed. The state House and Senate will make the final decision on whether or not to approve the project, ahead of Michigan’s new fiscal year, which begins October 1. 

SUPERIOR SEWAGE: Rapid melting of snow in Duluth, Minnesota, led to a sewage overflow at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, the Star Tribune reports. The facility, which usually handles 38 million gallons of sewage each day, spent “several days” processing between 90 million and 125 million gallons of wastewater, much of which was snowmelt. Unable to handle excess inflows, and exacerbated by its water clarifying tanks working only at 75 percent, “slightly over the allowed amount” of wastewater was released into the St. Louis River, which flows into Lake Superior. In releasing this wastewater the facility violated a national permit, though according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the majority of the release was “clear storm water” and the threat to public health is “slim.”

Looking Ahead

WAUKESHA’S WATER: The Freeman reports that this year — by late August or early September — Waukesha will receive water from Lake Michigan, rather than relying on groundwater that has historically been contaminated with radium and required residents to use water softeners. The pipeline that will carry this water from the lake is “95 percent complete,” while a water pump station in Milwaukee, the last project currently undergoing construction, will finish within several months. Residents are being told to expect their monthly water bill to jump from around $95 to around $155. The city is also encouraging its residents to switch from high-flow to low-flow toilets, offering a $100 rebate to those who do. 

Upcoming Events

May 8 – 13 — IAGLR 2023: 66th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research — learn more

May 8 — Great Lakes Observing System: The Seagull Workshop — learn more 

May 9 — Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative: Communicating About Climate Change in Our Classrooms and Communities Session 4 — learn more

May 16 —  Funding and Financing Coastal Resilience: Spotlight on Revolving Loan Funds — register and learn more

May 23 — 2023 Great Lakes Commission Semiannual Meeting — register and learn more

Other News

TROUT SEASON: As trout season officially begins in Michigan, the state Department of Natural Resources is asking anglers to decontaminate their gear, so as to prevent further infestations of invasive New Zealand mudsnails and didymo, WHMI 93.5 reports

CHINOOK STOCKING: The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has implemented a new chinook salmon strategy in Lake Michigan, placing “75,000 Chinook salmon in East Chicago, 100,000 in the Little Calumet River, and 100,000 in Trail Creek,” KPC News reports

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