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Flood art

It’s a record we didn’t want.

Yet, on Thursday, the Mississippi River crested at 22.68 feet, the highest in recorded history at Lock and Dam 15.

What’s more, it was the 40th day the river had been above major flood stage.

By now, we all know these figures. They are the statistical proof of our suffering.

The Quad-Cities has a lot of experience with flooding, and we’ve mostly managed it pretty well.

In Davenport, the use of HESCO barriers has made flood-fighting a fairly predictable experience.

Until last Tuesday.

A barrier breach at River Drive and Pershing Avenue that afternoon sent floodwaters gushing into downtown and dramatically changed things.

We had suddenly found that the city's use of HESCO barriers, an integral line of defense for Davenport’s downtown for more than a decade, has limits.

We don’t yet know the reason for the failure — there have been questions raised about the city’s deployment of the barriers. But, as Public Works officials and others have pointed out, these barriers have never had to withstand the height and duration of this year’s flood.

The Mississippi not only has been at major flood stage for 43 days as of today, but it has been out of its banks at Lock and Dam 15 since March 15 — 10 days short of two full months.

That, to us, is staggering. And we wonder what might come next?

It would be tempting to just think of this as a one-off. After all, it’s been 26 years since we set our last record. However, we have all watched as more frequent, heavier rainfall has pounded the Midwest. We have seen the predictions that climate change will present ever greater challenges in the future.

We saw a report the other day that said it was a "fool’s errand" to try to link this year’s Midwest flooding to climate change.

We think it would be foolish not to prepare for that very real possibility.

We believe, when we get past the flood-fighting and recovery stage, there should be a comprehensive examination of how we have been fighting floods in Davenport.

Such an examination should enlist downtown businesses and residents. Ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take part, along with state disaster experts.

Let’s look at what other communities have done.

In Fargo, North Dakota, where it frequently floods, officials there are working to move ahead on a plan to build a channel to divert flood waters, a unique initiative that has taken an immense amount of coordination with the government and the private sector.

Our situation is different than Fargo’s, of course. But the idea is that we should not be complacent.

What we've been doing has worked pretty well, but there are other flood-fighting devices and technologies out there. It's possible they may be better than what we’ve been relying on — or that may complement our current approach.

We would also note it has been nearly 20 years since Davenport requested the Corps of Engineers take a look at the possibility of building a structural flood protection system.

Perhaps that deserves a fresh look — if not the entire plan then parts of it.

We don’t make this suggestion lightly. Frankly, our sense is that, regardless of the arguments for and against building levees and walls, there likely isn’t an economic case to be made for federal participation in such a project.

In 2002, the Corps’ reassessment of the plan that had been drafted to protect the city’s 9-mile riverfront back in the 1970s and ‘80s found that the monetary benefits fell far short of what it would take to get federal participation.

That means the cost of such a plan, somewhere around $90 million in today’s dollars, would probably be all on us.

Still, it’s possible the equation has changed. There has been a lot of investment in downtown Davenport. We also don’t know how the rules for what gets counted and what doesn’t in such studies might have changed.

The point here isn’t to suggest any particular solution, but rather to say we should not just go back to business as usual.

This city has been rightly recognized over the past decade or so for its resilience in the face of flooding and its decision to rely on temporary protection, rather than a permanent structure.

The costs are manageable and the impact on others less severe.

Still, this year’s flood is different. The river has been over flood stage for seven weeks, and it will be weeks more before the Mississippi returns to its home.

Our city has changed, and so has our climate.

We no longer can be comfortable in the knowledge that what we have been doing will always work.

We should prepare for the future, whatever it may bring.

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