Flooding of the Illinois River

Flooding of the Illinois River
Flooding of the Illinois River

One of the big rivers to burst its banks during the spring time floods in the Midwest, 2013, was the Illinois River.

During April 2013, residents of towns like Peoria and Grafton have had to brace themselves as river levels reached flood heights over the period of a few days of heavy rain.

In Peoria, there as been a temporary flood wall put in place to protect buildings and properties there. Water pumps are working endlessly to keep flood water away. This chart, taken from weather.gov shows the levels of the Illinois River at Peoria during the last few days of April, where levels peaked (hopefully) just under 30 feet.

River Levels at Peoria April 2013
River Levels at Peoria April 2013

Elsewhere, in Grafton, the population had fought to protect their homes from an expected 10 feet of flood water.

The Mayor of Grafton, Tom Thompson, says the water level is projected to reach 29.4 feet, well above where it should be.  “Sixteen is normal, first flood stage would be 18,” he says.

But this is simply yet another test for the people who live along the Illinois River. Many have experienced this type of thing before.

In fact flooding of the Illinois River is simply a fact of life and has occurred on a regular basis since records began. According to the Museum of Illinois:

One resident, Lucien Edlen, compiled his own record of great floods from 1725 through 1869. He listed “great floods” in 1725, 1772, 1785, 1786, 1792, 1810, 1826, 1828, 1836, and 1849. Tales of these floods were handed down by word of mouth through families. They were described in terms of how deep the water was as it ran through Beardstown’s main street.

In Meredosia, there was a cast iron plaque commemorating the high water and preserving the record” of floods. The dates on the plaque, from top to bottom are: October 12, 1929; April 29, 1922; 1844: 24 feet; June 10, 1858; April 18, 1913; June 1849.

Here is a chart made up of the data included here. The data is a record of high water stages of the Illinois River at Beardstown. The records are from every year from 1844 to 1970. It is quite remarkable to see that the river levels almost continually over the flood level of 14 feet. Indeed, from the period 1844 to 1970, only 16 years have we seen the river stay under the 14 feet flood level.

Illinois River Levels 1844 to 1970

Yet there is still a feeling that floods will worsen over the coming years. This video clip is from nature.org and looks at the current (April 2013) flooding of the Illinois River around Peoria, and how some of the flood water has been diverted to the Emiquon Preserve in order to protect towns and cities down river from floods. This is shown as an example of what can be done to help those towns and communities under threat of floods from the Illinois River. Rather than simply build dams and levees – working against nature – a better approach would be to give the flood waters some place to run, before they hit any towns or cities. In the video, Nature Conservancy’s Michael Reuter says:

Now is the time to develop a new approach in floodplain management that works with nature — not against it.

One thought on “Flooding of the Illinois River

  1. From those figures it seems like the Illinois has always flooded. It probably just seems a lot worse these days since there are more towns and bigger populations that can get damaged from the floods.

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