Steve London | August 26 2008

Flood Control Infrastructure Saves Flood-Prone Ste. Genevieve, Mo.

Mississippi River floodwaters nearly claimed Missouri’s oldest community in 1993. The high water was held back this time.

A levee and powerful flood-control pump station that entered service following the devastating 1993 floods helped win the battle to save historic Ste. Genevieve, Mo., during the recent catastrophic floods along the Mississippi River.

The quaint village of 4,400 people, located 64 miles south of St. Louis, was the focus of international attention in 1993 when tens of thousands of volunteers worked valiantly to build an emergency levee to hold back the Mississippi’s record crest of 49.74 ft that year at the Chester, Ill., gage.

More than 1.1 million sandbags, 40 tractor-trailer loads of concrete median barriers and 16,000 truckloads of rock went into the 22-ft-high emergency levee that kept damages to approximately $10 million. This year's flooding was mostly above St. Louis but nonetheless catastrophic in those areas. The Mississippi River downstream from St. Louis was 12 ft short of the 1993 record but still roiling well above flood stage at Ste. Genevieve.

A different scenario existed this time, however. The difference stands in a $50-million levee and pump station structure armed with three 660-hp Flygt pumps supplied by ITT Water & Wastewater U.S.A, Inc. The infrastructure presented the needed line of defense between the Mississippi River and the French Colonial village that dates back to 1735.

Completed in 2001, the “urban design” levee—engineered for even more than a 500-year flood—and pump station, located 600 ft up from a creek’s confluence with the river, prevented the stream from backing up the half-mile distance into Ste. Genevieve. The computer-controlled station is among the largest of its type in North America. During the recent high water, the four sluice gates shut and the pumps activated to usher whatever water reached the creek basin up and over the levee and into the river. By early July, nearly half of the total run time for the pump station had accrued since April of this year.

The pumps were manufactured to exacting performance criteria by ITT Water and Wastewater, Inc. in Sweden and set in place as the flood-control structure neared completion in 2001. The scope of the project also involved construction of two railroad closure structures and other related improvements.

Ste. Genevieve has been victimized by high water ever since French fur traders settled there. Seven floods had occurred since 1973 at the bend along the Mississippi River before the flood-control improvements. As the water recedes off the fields inundated by levee breaks upstream, the Mississippi is expected to rise again but the residents of Ste. Genevieve should feel more at ease behind the now-proven line of defense against the largest of America’s rivers.