Q: Many of the fishermen have been trying to figure out why the river has been so high this winter. Has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers been doing something to regulate the dams to hold back water? Normally in the winter, the river level runs about 5 feet in Davenport and
6 feet in Muscatine, Iowa. This year, about the lowest it's gotten is 6 feet in Davenport or 8 feet in Muscatine. Recently, it was just back up to over 8 feet in Davenport and 9 feet in Muscatine. I know people along the river are very concerned about flooding in the spring with the amount of snow up north, plus the snow here and the high ground moisture.
- John, Davenport
A: We got a short and a long answer from Ron Fournier, chief of corporate communications for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Short answer: It is happening naturally and the corps is not controlling river levels beyond maintaining a 9-foot navigation channel.
The longer explanation is that while the Mississippi River at Locks and Dam 15 may appear to be high, it is currently under 6.5 feet and is projected to be 7.1 on
Feb. 22. On this week in 2010, it was 5.56 feet. Other levels for Feb. 15 over the years were 7.91 feet in 2009, 6.15 feet in 2008, 4.46 in 2007, 6.0 feet in 2006, 5.40 feet in 2005, 4.23 in 2004, 4.58 feet in 2003, 5.34 feet in 2002, 6.51 feet in 2001 and 4.86 feet in 2000.
The historical normal for this time of year is 5.20 feet, while the historic maximum is 10.50 feet. Flood stage is at 15 feet.
Since the Mississippi River maintains its flow through water (rain and snowmelt) draining into the river from
41 percent of the continental United States stretching from Montana to New York (31 states and two Canadian provinces), river levels will fluctuate due to the amount of rain and snowmelt over this 1,830,000-square-mile drainage basin.
Locks and dams were not constructed to prevent flooding and they have absolutely no flood-control capabilities. If the Mississippi River dams could control flooding by holding back water, the pool that would be created behind the dam would be so enormous that it would flood many communities upstream of the dam.
The lock and dam system was constructed to maintain a 9-foot deep navigation channel in the Mississippi River to ensure deep enough water for commercial navigation. Although there is little navigation in the winter months, the corps does not attempt to lower the navigation pools. Factors include preventing fish kills; loss of wildlife habit; ice floe damage to infrastructure; loss of water intakes for municipal water supplies, manufacturing industries and nuclear power plants; loss of recreational opportunities (ice fishing, boating); bank sloughing and impacts to levees and shoreline; and impacts to riverboat casinos.
The rollers and gates do not reach from the bottom of the river to above the water line. They only restrict water flow enough to keep the pool behind the dam high enough to maintain the 9-foot-deep navigation channel. The excess water passes under the gates or rollers. In high-water situations, the dam gates and rollers are taken completely out of the water and all water flows through the dam.
Q: In watching all the football games lately, the professional football players have what looks like a rubber band around their upper arm above the elbow. What is it and what is it for?
- Eve, Davenport
A: Players have been wearing those rubber band-type devices on their arms for about 10 years now to prevent tendonitis or something called tendinopathy. They are designed to keep tendons and muscles in the triceps, biceps and elbows from tearing when stress is placed on those areas. There is some disagreement among medical experts as to how well they work.
(Answers provided by Times community editor Linda Watson and sports editor Don Doxsie.)