Lingering flooding along the Middle Mississippi River and tributaries

NASA MODIS image of flooding along the Middle Mississippi, 20 May 2011

Figure 1. NASA MODIS image of flooding along the Middle Mississippi, 20 May 2011.

One week ago today (28 May 2011), I had the chance to explore the lingering flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributary Big Muddy River in southern Illinois. The area was long past its crest; it is upriver of Cairo and the Birds Point Floodway. Around Carbondale, evidence of the recent high water was still visible in all of the drainages, but the water was back well within the stream banks. Closer to the confluence with the Mississippi though, high water levels on the Mississippi were still forcing backwater flooding of the floodplain and the Big Muddy River.

Driving and hiking along the escarpment of the LaRue-Pine Research Natural Area afforded expansive views of the flooding – and the remnant landscapes of previous millenia of river activity.

Foreground: An abandoned channel remains as a wetland. Background: Levees and flooding along the Big Muddy River.

Figure 2. Foreground: An abandoned channel remains as a wetland. Background: Levees and flooding along the Big Muddy River. (Click for larger version)

Flooding along the Big Muddy River, 28 May 2011

Figure 3. Flooding along the Big Muddy River, 28 May 2011 (Click for larger version)

Once we descended from the hills and onto the floodplain, we were immediately greeted by floodwaters.

Flooded bottomlands

Figure 4. Flooded bottomland forest along the Big Muddy River.

Driving away from the hills towards the Mississippi, our road took us along the top of the levee, giving us close up views of the effects of leveeing, levee repairs, and local wildlife.

Big Muddy inside the levee

Figure 5. A barn and fields protected from flooding by the levee on which we drove. (View out the window on the south side of the car.) (This barn is visible in the middle left of Figure 3).

Big Muddy outside the levee

Figure 6. The Big Muddy River, in flood, contained by the levee we drove along. (View out the window on the north side of the car, immediately opposite Figure 5.)

Levee repair along the Big Muddy

Figure 7. Temporary levee repair along the Big Muddy. The plastic sheeting and sandbags may be covering an area that had cracked or started to erode (click for larger).


Snapping turtle

Figure 8. Why did the snapping turtle cross the levee road?

After crossing the Big Muddy River, we drove along a state highway that was not atop a levee, and only a few feet above flooded fields. Egrets and herons were everywhere in the standing water, and a pleasant breeze whipped up waves on the water. But we were reminded that this scene was normally not so watery…in the image below, you might be able to see a center pivot irrigation line in the field, standing in the flood waters.

Flooded fields and an irrigation line

Figure 9. A flooded field, with an irrigation line. Normally, this landscape would not be so blue. (Click for larger)

Finally we reached the Mississippi itself, in Grand Tower, Illinois. The river was definitely high, but open for business – we watched a tow and barges go by. The town of Grand Tower is situated immediately adjacent to the Mississippi – and protected by a big levee. Near the north end of town, the levee was a few feet lower than the rest, and here a metal floodwall had been constructed atop the levee. There was also evidence that a pumping operation had been set up – to pump water from behind the levee back into the river. Whether this pumping was necessitated by seepage or localized ponding, I couldn’t tell. But here, in a sleepy little town on the Mississippi, the effects of our efforts to keep floodwaters off the floodplain were in full display.

Pumping set up and a floodwall atop a levee

Figure 10. A pumping and a floodwall atop a levee (on right side of photo) in Grand Tower, Illinois.


Mississippi River flooding, Grand Tower, Illinois

Figure 11. Mississippi River flooding, Grand Tower, Illinois. Looking downstream, with a levee on the left side of the image.

Categories: by Anne, geohazards, hydrology
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Comments (2)

  1. Gaia Vince says:

    Great photos, Anne. Amazing how effective levees can be.

  2. carol says:

    August 9 2011 and the Mississippi at Winona , Minnesota is still 31/2 feet above normal. The river has never dropped to its average level this summer, with levels 3-6 feet above the usual stage. The floodplain forests have been continuously inundated for 4 months, which is highly atypical for silver maple/ river birch forests along the Upper Mississippi.