21.34 feet is Mississippi’s sixth highest crest at McGregor

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In Marquette, Mississippi flood waters traveled up Bloody Run Creek, eventually reaching the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Water engulfed the Marquette riverfront, eventually reaching the base of the dike.

Once the Mississippi River reached 20 feet, a plastic-covered concrete barrier was placed at the foot of McGregor’s Main Street, to protect the town.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Mississippi River crested at 21.34 feet at McGregor on Friday, April 5, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). This was the sixth highest recorded crest at the location and the largest flooding event since 2001.

Thanks to preparations made over the past few weeks, officials in both Marquette and McGregor said the impact was minimal.

“We thought it was necessary to be prepared for the worst,” stated Marquette mayor Steve Weipert. 

The NWS had predicted above- or well-above-normal flooding for the area this spring, including a 59 percent chance of major flooding, above 22 feet. The record, set in April 1965, was 25.38 feet.

On March 19 and 20, as the river neared the minor flood stage of 16 feet, “we filled 10,000 sandbags with help from volunteers and the school kids,” said McGregor mayor Lyle Troester. “Luckily, so far, we haven’t had to use many.”

At that time, Troester said city crews and volunteers were also readying pumps, assuring the lift stations were covered, and installing airbags in the storm sewer inlets to prevent backflow.

In Marquette, workers did much the same. As part of a cooperative effort with the railroad, Weipert said rubber ties were also placed at two locations on the railroad tracks in town, to prevent water from seeping through.

“That keeps us from having to build a dike,” he said of the upgrade, which will be permanent.

“And it allows the trains to continue to operate,” added city clerk Bonnie Basemann. “Normally, that would have to be shut off.”

The Mississippi hit 20 feet—a foot above moderate flood stage—early last week. In McGregor, water took over the riverfront, covering signage and park benches, filling the shelter and reaching halfway up the street lamp posts. It also surrounded the Beer and Bratz Garden, whose kitchen and bathroom had previously been removed. 

Some property owners along Main Street reported water in their basements, and the alley that runs behind Backwoods Bar and Grill had to be closed. At one point, Troester said excessive flow through the sewage treatment plant created an overload, causing back-ups for a few people.

As water inched closer to the railroad tracks, a plastic-covered concrete barrier was erected at the foot of Main Street, to protect the rest of the town.

“In the past, we hauled in clay” to form a barrier, Troester said, “but this is much cleaner and more efficient. We can use it again after we’re done.”

The river engulfed the Marquette riverfront too, eventually reaching the base of the dike. Water also traveled up Bloody Run Creek, spreading all the way to the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, where it covered the wetland observation deck, trails and sidewalk.

Basemann said the city had concrete blocks ready to build dikes, if needed.

Wetlands Centre director Alicia Mullarkey said the wetlands in Marquette are helpful during flood situations.

“It traps water and slows it down,” she explained. “It gives the river a larger area to spread water out so it’s not concentrated in the channel and moving downstream as quickly.”

Since water can back up into the city’s interconnected wetlands, “McGregor and Guttenberg are probably benefitting a little bit,” she noted.

When wetlands are developed, Mullarkey said the water that normally settled there is pushed elsewhere, and could potentially cause problems.

“We need to keep these spaces because there’s a lot of benefit to the community and to wildlife when we’re able to protect them and let them do their job,” she said.

The Mississippi is now on it’s way down, and the National Weather Service predicts it will level off at 19 feet over the weekend. 

“The good news is, once it crests, it’s unlikely it will surpass that level again,” Troester said.

But should precipitation force it to go up again soon—or at another point this year—Basemann said both towns will be ready.

Troester and Weipert indicated they were proud of how the two communities worked as one to prepare for the flooding. 

“Filling sandbags was good for both towns,” Weipert remarked. “It brought people closer together.”

“People brought their youngsters down, and the school kids had good morale. The First Congregational Church provided meals,” Troester shared. “It’s always good when you have a volunteer effort.”

As the river recedes, Marquette and McGregor will now work to clean up their riverfronts, washing down structures and removing debris. Troester stressed that people can continue to visit in the meantime.

“It’s important for people to know that the businesses are all open,” he said. “The water didn’t disrupt that.”

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