Mississippi River Communities Brace For Flooding


In just a few months, Missouri has gone from a record drought that reduced farmers' crop yields to flooding that has hurt in other ways. Earlier this year, the worst drought conditions seen in the Midwest in decades threatened to close the Mississippi River to barge traffic.

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Now here's a change. Earlier this year, the worst drought conditions seen in the Midwest in decades threatened to close the Mississippi River to barge traffic. Now, communities along the river in Missouri and Illinois are bracing for flooding.

St. Louis Public Radio Maria Altman reports.

MARIA ALTMAN, BYLINE: The threat of flooding on the Mississippi River came on quickly after last week's storms dumped rain across the Midwest. The town of Clarksville, Missouri didn't even have time to erect its metal flood wall.

Instead, volunteers spent the weekend frantically sandbagging. For farmers the rains have meant they haven't been able to start spring planting.

Greg Guenther farms corn and soybeans outside of Belleville, Illinois.

GREG GUENTHER: We haven't turned a wheel in the fields yet, and over the last couple of days here when that big rain came, we got six inches of rain. And oh my goodness the flooding around here was amazing.

ALTMAN: Last summer, Guenther was looking for any moisture he could get. He ended up with about half his typical corn yield.

The big swing in the weather isn't just affecting farmers. This winter, barge operators had to lighten loads to stay on the shallow Mississippi River - now they're dealing with high water.

Dennis Wilmsmeyer is executive director of America's Central Port, across from St. Louis.

DENNIS WILMSMEYER: You know, we saw flooding in 2010 and 2011; saw drought in 2012 and flooding again in 2013, so I think we're due for about 50 or 60 years of more normal river patterns.

ALTMAN: But the National Weather Service has predicted a wetter spring than normal in Missouri and more rain is in the forecast this week.

For NPR News, I'm Maria Altman in St. Louis.

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