It was born in the swirling blizzards of an abnormal severe winter across the northern plains; it was nurtured by a combination of climatic conditions which forced an early runoff of melting snow before the ground was sufficiently thawed to absorb moisture; it savagely matured at the mouths of the swollen Minnesota, St. Croix and Wisconsin rivers.
And before the Great Missisippi River Flood of 1965 died — its fury spent in the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico — it had left an awesome trail of heartbreak, suffering and property damage.”
It’s been almost 50 years since those words were written by former Clinton Herald Editor Everett Streit as he chronicled the Great Flood of 1965 in a booklet detailing the disaster that took Clinton to its knees that year.
In fact, it was 48 years ago today that Clintonians and residents across the river in Fulton, Ill., were bracing for those floodwaters. On April 27, 1965, the Mississippi River stage was recorded as 24.7 feet and it was believed that would be the crest.
But that actually didn’t happen until one day later, when the peak hit and officially was recorded as 24.85 feet.
The day that crest was reached, at least 850 Clinton homes were surrounded by water and 36 businesses and 16 industrial plants were out of operation. More than 50 square blocks of the Clinton north-end area were inundated and about 1,000 residents had been driven from their homes. In the south end of the city, more than 25 blocks were flooded.
In the end, estimates put the damage at $5.5 million.
It all led the Clinton City Council to make a formal request for institution of a flood control project. It could make a good case as the city had experienced other costly floods in 1951, 1952 and 1967. A temporary levee built in 1969 under the title “Operation Foresight” saved the city from extensive damage in 1969 and 1973.
The project was given the green light, with construction beginning on the dike in 1974 under Congress’s Flood Control Act of 1965, and completed in 1981. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for the construction of the Clinton levee system, with the city serving as a cost-share partner, financing roughly 25 percent of the total $26.4 million price tag.
Why is this important now?
One need only look to cities that don’t have a levee like Clinton’s. Panic ensues whenever the waters start to rise, with business owners and residents in the path of the water working day and night to protect their properties from the water. There is loss in terms of business traffic as well as property damage, which of course fluctuates based on each flood event’s water depth.
One also could look at the destruction — or lack of such — that was noted after flooding events following the dike’s construction: Clinton suffered minimal damage during the great floods of 1993 and 2001, and a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Ill., said in 2008 that since its completion, Clinton’s levee system has saved the city nearly $46 million in prevented damages.
Sure, some cities won’t build a dike because of the fear of an obstructed view of the river. And why build it if there is a chance the river won’t flood from one year to the next, they may argue.
Our question: Why take that chance?
Luckily — because of the foresight of Clinton city leaders who saw the great need for a flood control project in the aftermath of the 1965 flood — we don’t have to.