Officials rely on a sophisticated network of monitors to keep an eye on America’s waterways. But beginning next month, more than 100 crucial gauges that warn of imminent flooding or a lack of water will be shut down due to federal spending cuts.
The 8,000 gauges across the nation are paid for by a combination of funds from federal, state and local governments. Last year, the federal government spent nearly $29 million on gauges, while the locals chipped in $116 million.
But the sequester cuts 5 percent from the federal share, and that means shutting down a handful of gauges in each state. And if the weather this month is any indication, that may be a very bad idea…
“The rain on the plain was mainly a pain” for many in rural America this week. Several rivers escaped their banks in Illinois, Missouri and the Dakotas.
High water in Spring Bay, Illinois near Peoria flooded homes and other low-lying areas. Roads were closed and some areas of Peoria Heights can only be reached by boat. Heavy rain contributed to the rise in water which was beginning to recede by mid-week.
Edward Mills, Peoria Heights, IL Resident: "Well, I think on the outside, it's like two feet, it's starting to recede a bit. It dropped about four inches since it crested."
Floodwaters in Peoria topped 70-year records along the Illinois River. Downtown Peoria was overrun by tens of thousands of sandbags and dozens of pumps trying to hold back the water.
Historic landmarks were inundated as residents documented the situation. Even some homes in East Peoria were deemed unsafe after a massive landslide.
The high Illinois River has contributed to a reduction in river navigation. The U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers are urging recreational boaters to stay off the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers between Alton, Illinois and the Port of St. Louis. Several locks were closed because of the high water.
Along the Missouri town of Clarksville, pumps are working overtime to expel the water from protected areas. Levees are being reinforced with help from the National Guard in the area between Hannibal and St. Louis.
It has been a long, tiresome stretch for local officials, who believe it could continue for another month.
Jo Anne Smiley, Mayor, Clarksville, Missouri: "The chief concern right now, I think, is just diligence and watching what we have done to make sure that there is not a breach of any kind. That will be a 24 hour a day watchful eye."
The mayor of Clarksville, like many on the front lines of this flood flight, knows current conditions can only be acerbated by what happens upstream.
Jo Anne Smiley, Mayor Clarksville, Missouri: "Oh yes, it can change in an instant. It could change, if in fact we have a deluge of rain above us, and the river should go higher than we can handle, then we'll have to increase the height of the wall that's there. And, it can be done, but we'd have to pull things back together really fast."
Downstream in St. Louis, water is spilling out of the riverfront. Just a few months ago, barges were grounded here because of low levels… this week about a dozen barges broke free and started floating downstream.
One National Weather Service hydrologist puts this flow change into perspective.
Mark Fuchs, National Weather Service: “It's not entirely unheard of, but for the river to go as long as minus-4.6 feet, all the way up to 35.2, as it is right now, is -- is considerable. And we really haven't -- I have looked back in history trying to find comparable events. And there's a handful. But I have to go all the way back into the '60s, early '70s perhaps to find anything close to that.”
Back north in Fargo, North Dakota, crews continue to prepare against the fourth major flood in five years.
Large clay walls are being assembled along the Red River. Depending on actual river crests, the Army Corps could build anywhere from four to seven miles of emergency levees
And the impact of more rainfall was reflected in the Drought Monitor.
Cool and wet conditions contributed to a reduction again this week in the four stages of drought. In the contiguous U.S., 60.2 of the country is in some form of drought, a nearly 2 point improvement over a week before. Recent rains aside, this week’s level is almost the same as it was a year ago at this time.
The moisture is proving to be a mixed blessing, as soggy conditions are delaying field work.
Planting progress is creeping along at one of the slowest paces in years. This week’s USDA report revealed only 4 percent of the corn is in ground. Little, if any corn is planted in key growing states. Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin ALL are well behind pace with no measureable progress happening. The five-year average for this week is 16 percent.