Residents who live along the Rock River in the Illinois Quad Cities are a special brand of people. Their lives are completely intertwined with the river's activity?good, bad, or ugly. The first of the month brought torrential rains, especially from north of the Quad Cities, that caused the Rock River to reach record flood levels during the flash flooding the rain created. In a 12-hour period between midnight on June 3 and noon on June 4, anywhere from 4 inches to 10 inches fell in the Moline Basin, which constitutes a 10,700-mile area. The large majority of rain fell north of the Quad Cities, overflowing the banks south of much of the actual rainfall. To add to the crisis, the ground was already saturated from earlier rains that fell upon the Midwest mere days before.
To hear some of the neighbors tell it, part of the reason for the serious degree of flooding is all the development that has occurred and is occurring along the Rock River and throughout the wetlands that are adjacent to the river.
But it isn't that simple. While there is certainly development occurring along the Rock and within adjacent wetlands, there are certain construction standards that must be met that include wetlands mitigation. In other words, for every acre of wetlands paved under concrete, developers must create two acres of replacement wetlands to mitigate the impact the development has on stormwater retention and flooding. The purpose of wetland mitigation is to ensure that there is no net loss of wetlands.
This does not minimize the concern, however, that it is quite possible that development in wetlands or floodplains should not be allowed to continue. There is plenty of evidence for this position. And with geometric growth in real estate development and the large amount of permeable ground becoming impermeable, it is a reasonable policy pursuit. Part of the controversy with wetlands mitigation is that the requirement for replacing wetlands does not have to occur within the same geographic area as the wetlands removed. In addition, development beyond wetlands and floodplains plays no small part in the larger issue of loss of water absorption and opportunities for evaporation that contributes to fast run-off and lack of run-off storage, which ultimately distorts drainage patterns. This problem is exacerbated by the levees and dikes built up and down the Rock River.
There are different agencies that regulate standards for construction in wetlands and floodplains. The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is responsible for the protection of wetlands and riverways. The National Flood Management Agency, which is a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), oversees floodplains. And even though the Corps oversees wetlands and FEMA has charge over floodplains, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does the reviewing of permits submitted by developers to build in wetlands and floodplains. For example, if the DNR sanctions a developer's application for construction within designated wetlands, the Corps automatically issues the permit.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing stormwater management and has issued a mandate for all cities in America to implement a stormwater management plan by 2007. However, there is no agency overseeing comprehensive floodplain management?the permitting process as it relates to wetlands in conjunction with floodplains, or wetlands as they cross state borders, or in connection with the plethora of development occurring inside and outside of floodplains that is displacing long-established water run-off patterns, etc. along the entire Rock River.
The standards that do exist, however, are enforced. For example, according to the Corps, the Wal-Mart/Lowes development corridor along John Deere Road in Moline absorbed 23 acres of wetlands, but it imposed a 70-acre wetland mitigation by establishing 30 acres of new wetlands directly behind the development, and purchasing 40 adjacent acres of wetlands that will be eternally preserved as such.
Recognizing the Rock River as a significant waterway, the Corps, in partnership with the DNR, is undertaking a four-and-one-half year, $1.5 million study to alleviate flooding problems and preserve the river's ecosystem. The study is scheduled to begin in the latter part of 2002. For more information regarding this subject, visit the Corps' Web site at www.mvr.usace.army.mil.