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Towns hit by flooding get help from nonprofit creating wetlands along Mississippi River

From the Great Flood of 1993 to floods in the spring of 2019, communities in lowland areas adjacent to Midwest rivers and streams have borne the brunt of major weather events.

“We’re seeing these 500-year and 100-year and 1,000-year events happening more and more frequently,” said Larry Weber, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa and cofounder of the Iowa Flood Center. “Farmers see that in their annual operations, and they recognize the land is being flooded more often.”

That is one reason, Weber said, that more Midwestern farmers are open to offering parts of their farmland to take on water intentionally. According to research by Weber and his colleagues, when land previously used for row crops is converted to wetlands, the severity of flooding downstream is reduced.

“Anytime we can take agriculture out of production and bring our watersheds into greater balance, it serves a tremendous societal benefit,” Weber said.

Now, a unique new partnership between the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and the conservation nonprofit Ducks Unlimited aims to create more wetlands in the region.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III, a member of the cities and towns group, and Ducks Unlimited regional biologist Mike Sertle joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss their plans.

“We have a running, multiyear list of projects up and down the Mississippi River… that marry very nicely with what the mayor's wont to do.” Sertle said. “So it worked out nicely.”

The two groups are collaborating on several "active" projects in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Those projects will total about $10 million and take roughly five years to complete. They are also setting goals for long-term projects that will require further development and could take about $300 million to complete in a 10-year time frame.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.