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Davenport Kick-Starts Formal Review Of Historic Floods And Future Needs

Kate Payne/IPR file
The Mississippi River city of Davenport saw its highest flood crests on record this year. Now the community is formally starting the process to review the past response and prepare for the future.

The city of Davenport is taking a deeper look at this year’s historic floods and the city’s handling of them. A task force of residents, business leaders, local officials and scientists met for the first time this week, kick-starting a formal review process.

The Mississippi River rocked Davenport this year, busting through a temporary flood barrier and swamping some roads, rail lines, businesses and basements, infiltrating underground infrastructure and forcing the city to discharge human sewage into the river.

Floodwaters in the city crested at the highest level on record, and were at flood stage for 103 consecutive days, a prolonged period of pressure on the public roads and sewer system, which local officials called unprecedented.

A task force is now reviewing what Davenport should learn from this past season and how it should brace for the next flood.

Davenport has historically resisted building a permanent flood wall, in part due to the cost of constructing miles of concrete barriers, and due to concerns of worsening flooding for other communities elsewhere in the watershed. But this year’s record breaking floods are spurring some residents to reconsider the city’s approach.

Alderwoman Marion Meginnis represents Davenport’s Third Ward, which includes the area of downtown where the temporary HESCO barrier failed, letting even more river water rush into shops and apartment buildings. She says for years, residents have prided themselves on their 9 mile riverfront, their access to the water and the relationship to it. Now she says she’s worried that relationship may fundamentally change in the wake of this year’s crests.

“I think it could change. It may have to because we’re dealing with a different environmental situation,” she said. “And I’m sad about that because this was…was always the tough city that could handle it and take care of the people down below.”

Mayor Frank Klipsch says a full-throated discussion of whether to build a flood wall or not will come later.

“Actually we’re not going to talk about a wall today, or not a wall today,” Klipsch told the group at its first meeting. “There’s factors that we need to discuss and the idea is to come up with all the steps and information this group needs and the community at large needs to end up making a decision of what we’re going to do in the future.”

National Weather Service hydrologist Jessica Brooks hopes the community considers how a changing climate may worsen flooding in the years to come.

“You have records. But records can easily be broken,” Brooks said. “So not to think that the river is not ever going to get higher than certain levels, and to think about ok, ‘what could happen 50 years from now?’”

The group’s next meeting is slated for July 23rd.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter