This Saturday, April 20, 2013, photo, provided by the Missouri Department of Public Safety shows an overtopped levee north of Clarksville, Mo. and the flood wall protecting the city. The Mississippi River is topping out at some problematic spots, but there is growing concern that spring floods are far from over. The river was at or near crest at several places Sunday, April 21, 2013 between the Quad Cities and near St. Louis. Some towns in the approximate 100-mile stretch of river from Quincy, Ill., to Grafton, Ill., reached 10-12 feet above flood stage. (AP Photo/Missouri Department of Public Safety) ORG XMIT: NY118
Updated: June 1, 2013 6:19AM
Chicago is used to thinking of itself as a city on a lake. But it’s also a city on the edge of the vast Mississippi River watershed, and it has a large stake in how well that watershed is managed.
The recent flooding along the Des Plaines River was a reminder of the importance of wisely managing flood plains, water runoff and other issues that affect an entire watershed. And the problems on the Mississippi itself — locks were closed first due to drought and then to flooding — affect Chicago because river barge traffic links the city to deep-water ports on the Gulf of Mexico. A DePaul University study estimated the barge traffic is worth more than $1 billion a year to the region’s economy.
Even the erosion of the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana is a Chicago problem, according to environmentalists who gathered here this month for The Big River Works leadership forum. The rapid erosion of the delta — the largest loss of land on the planet — is threatening New Orleans’ port, and if that goes, Illinois will lose much of its access to world markets, they said.
Mark S. Davis, director and senior research fellow of the Tulane University Law School’s Institute on Water Resources, Law and Policy, said the Mississippi suffers because no single agency oversees the entire watershed. Such oversight must come from Congress or some federal or national authority because conflicting interests among the 31 states and two Canadian provinces in the watershed make a voluntary solution unlikely.
The Chicago region has its work cut out for it, both in focusing on our local waterways and taking a lead in addressing the Mississippi’s future as well.