How Historic Stadium Keeps the Mississippi Floods Out

A few days after the spring floods in the Upper Midwest began in June this year, FloodList took a brief look at some of the flood defences in operation in the area used by individuals, organisations and municipalities.

Below is another instalment in our series on alternatives to sandbags. This time around we are featuring the high-tech, demountable floodwall around the old baseball stadium of Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa.

Davenport, Iowa

Last week, towns and cities along the banks of the Mississippi River in Iowa and Missouri were keeping a close eye on river levels whilst busy preparing for possible floods.

One such city was Davenport, Iowa. River levels crested on 7 July 2014 at around 20.94 feet – around 5 feet into flood stage.

Mississippi River levels at Rock Island gauge, near Davenport, iowa. Image: NOAA
Mississippi River levels at Rock Island gauge, near Davenport, Iowa. Image: NOAA

But the city had seen it all before. River levels reached a record of 22.63 ft on in July 1993. 2001 (22.33 ft), 2008 (21.49 ft) and 2011 ( 20.71 ft) also saw river levels well above major flood stage of 18 feet.

Flooding from the river is simply part of life in Davenport, especially between April and July when snow melt and rain increase the river levels until it overflows into local homes and businesses.

One such business is the local baseball stadium, Modern Woodmen Park, home to the Quad Cities River Bandits. The park was built in 1931 and is the 3rd oldest still in use today in USA. The stadium however, is located directly on the banks of the Mississippi (as shown in photo below), and has been extremely vulnerable to flooding in recent years. The City of Davenport decided a permanent solution to flood threats was needed in order to protect the historic stadium and ensure ball games would go ahead, floods or not.

modern woodmen park on the river
Modern Woodmen Park sits directly on the Mississippi River. Photo: Nekonomist @ Flickr

Stanley Consultants designed an 800 foot (244 metre) long removable floodwall to protect the stadium. The flood wall was then supplied by IBS Engineered Products, who have offices in Germany and the UK. The project was completed by March 2011, just in time for the spring floods.


Parts of the floodwall in action
Parts of the floodwall in action in 2011

The floodwall system consists of aluminium panels 10 feet long by 4 inches wide by 8 inches tall that can be erected to a height of 8 feet. Stackable panels fit between aluminium columns on 10 foot centres which bolt into stainless steel baseplates. It has been doing its job since the 2011 floods, and kept the stadium dry and free of flood water this time around in 2014.

In fact for the July 4th Independence Day baseball game at Modern Woodmen Park, the stadium was surrounded by the flood waters of the overflowing Mississippi, but park, players and fans were all dry, thanks to the wall.

Flood water kept at bay in 2011 Photo: AlansHeaven @ flickr
Flood water kept at bay in 2011 Photo: AlansHeaven @ flickr

“I have no idea how the water’s just all around the outside but not inside,” one local baseball fan told local media.

The floodwall has brought about a big change for the stadium and baseball fans since it was built. Below is a photo of how things used to be for visitors to a ball game during flood time, complete with a few token sandbags.

modern woodmen flood

Clarksville, Missouri

The experiences of Davenport baseball fans couldn’t be more different to those of residents of Clarksville, Missouri, a small town of around 450 people and 40 businesses that also sits right on the banks of the Mississippi about 180 miles south of Davenport.

At the end of June, with river levels rising, local residents were facing the reality that there was no city money available for building up temporary flood defences with debts still to pay on last year’s flood fighting efforts – which cost $400,000 – the town board voted not to fund flood protection efforts, like sandbagging, this time around.

Home and business owners worked on building up what flood defences they could. The town also used prisoners to stack sandbags, and received help from volunteers and individual and company donations, such as Americorp Saint Louis and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway which sent sand and sandbags.

The Mississippi River crested at 34.8 feet on 9 July at Clarksville, 10 feet over flood stage. The local park, some homes and businesses were flooded with around 2 feet of water.

But what about next time? A letter to a local newspaper suggested that Clarksville residents should simply pack up and move out.

On the subject of future floods and flood protection, Jo Ann Smiley, mayor of this popular, historical tourist town said,

“Please do not put up a wall that prevents the view of the river being available at all times to tourists and to us as a community”

With no money to pay for sandbags each year, but a reluctance to build a permanent wall, residents of Clarksville may do well to consider the modern approach to flood defences taken at Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport.

Obviously there are big differences in circumstances and the areas to be protected – Clarksville has around a half mile of river-front properties to protect – and no flood defence solution is likely to be the exact same.

But there are alternatives to using sandbags to protect the town from floods. Whether it’s an aluminium removable floodwall as used in Davenport, an inflatable flood dam (as used in France in February 2014), a flood fence as used in Fargo, North Dakota, or a Fast-Built Levee as used in Minnesota this year, there are effective, cheaper alternatives to relying on sandbags (and prisoners to fill them) each year.

Photo Credits: Modern Woodmen Park in 2011 floods; Modern Woodmen Park on the river