An active weather pattern continues to boost the chances of spring flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
But it hasn’t altered plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close much of the Illinois River to navigation this summer for rehabilitation work at five locks and dams.
“We’re still on schedule to close July 1,” Tom Heinold, chief of operations for the Corps’ Rock Island District, said at the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association’s (IFCA) annual convention in Peoria. “We completed our initial work (in the past year) and are ready for the 2020 closure.
“We chose July 1 because that’s typically the point after the spring rains are down river,” he noted. “It gives us the best chance to start the work.”
Full lock and dam closures currently are scheduled for July 1 to Sept. 30 at LaGrange, July 6 to Sept. 30 at Peoria, July 1 to Oct. 29 at Starved Rock, July 6 to Oct. 29 at Marseilles and Oct. 4 to 24 at Dresden Island. Partial closures also will occur at Dresden Island July 6 to Oct. 3 and from Oct. 25 to 28.
Upgrades to the decaying structures include everything from major rehabilitation, lock machinery replacement and miter gate installation to upper bulkhead recess installation.
“We’re trying to reset the system,” Heinold said. “We plan to work at five sites concurrently, with four of the locks requiring dewatering.”
Work at the Brandon Road lock and dam near Joliet, which also would’ve closed this summer, was postponed until 2023 due to a lack of available contractors to undertake the maintenance work.
“Really, the only wildcard at this point is Mother Nature,” Heinold said. “The only thing that could prevent us from doing the work is if all the sites are underwater.”
Spring river flooding appears to be a distinct possibility at this point. But the maintenance plans are more dependent on weather in the summer and early fall.
“It’s almost a certainty we’ll have spring flooding,” Heinold said. “We’re set up worse than we were last year as far as moisture levels and the snowpack up north.”
The river system remained at flood stage for a record amount of time last year and reached a record 22.7 feet on the Mississippi at Davenport, Iowa on May 2. It forced shippers and retailers to find alternative forms of transportation and created a practice run for this year.
“Mother Nature gave us no preparation last year,” Heinold said. “We hope to minimize the pain this year.”
Many retailers and distributors are building inventories of ag inputs for this spring and summer, well ahead of the planned river closure.
“We rely a lot on the Illinois River,” said Jean Payne, IFCA president. “However, we have a very diverse transportation system with trucking and rail. We’re well prepared to do this.
“The key will be if the river closure is done on time,” she added. “If it gets delayed substantially because of flooding or something, that could get problematic.”