A meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 14, in Clinton to discuss plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an ecosystem restoration in a six-mile stretch of the Mississippi River aimed at making life better for fish, mussels, birds and other creatures.
If funding is approved, 2023 is likely the earliest the project could begin construction, Erica Stephens, project manager, said. Although it is impossible to say what the project might cost because no proposals have been made, the project team is thinking of something in the $15 million range, she said.
The meeting from 4-6 p.m. at the Clinton County Administration Building is part of the feasibility portion of the project, an opportunity for the Corps and its partners in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa and Illinois departments of natural resources to discuss their plans and to get input from the public about what it sees in and thinks about that stretch of river.
Rehabilitation is aimed at reversing degradation of the river that has occurred over the years for all sorts of reasons — the building of the locks and dams system that changed the way the water flows, increased flooding and the arrival of invasive species, Stephens said.
The area pegged for rehab and enhancement is the lower portion of what's called Mississippi River Pool 13, the area just above Lock and Dam 13 and extending for about six miles, located between Whiteside County, Illinois, and Clinton County, Iowa. It includes backwater lakes, sloughs, flowing channels and small river islands.
What does habitat restoration look like? One example might be the building of islands, created by dredging, Stephens said. The islands could be built up high and planted with hardwood trees that would provide animal food (acorns, hickory nuts etc.) and shelter for birds, or they could be shallow with a wetland ecosystem, Stephens said.
Islands also would create different depths and velocities of water within the river which is beneficial because different creatures thrive at different depths and velocities, she explained.
Another benefit is that islands slow down water flow, encouraging the dropdown of sediment. Less sediment means better water quality which promotes both plant and animal growth.
Islands that already exist could be stabilized with the placement of rocks at the upstream side, lessening or preventing erosion, Stephens said.
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Another example of restoration could be the building of a structure that would make more water flow into the backwaters thereby helping to clean out sediment that has built up over the years, eliminating some sorts of habitat, she said.
The overall goal is to make the river act more like a natural river than one that has been dammed, channeled and degraded, she explained.
During the meeting in Clinton, experts will provide an overview of the program, outline goals and gather thoughts from residents.
Maybe there is a type of fish someone used to catch that they no longer see, for example, or maybe there's an area where someone once could put in a boat that now has filled with sediment, Stephens said. Those are the kinds of observations she and other partners are hoping to get.
What the project looks like in the end will reflect what people (team members and the public) decide are the biggest problems to address and the cost-benefit ratio of various proposals, she said.
"The program that determines the best buy usually becomes the plan," Stephens said.
The Pool 13 project is part of the larger Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program that began in 1986 and is the Corps' "flagship" rehabilitation program, Samantha Heilig, a spokeswoman for the Corps, said. "It is one of the most successful partnership projects in the nation. It is not done anywhere else like we do it here.
"In total, there have been 56 projects completed and 106,000 acres restored," she said.
The upper Mississippi is the area between St. Paul and Cairo, Illinois, including the Illinois River waterway.