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So far, river is behaving itself

The Mighty Mississippi is approaching low-lying areas, but it has yet to set off 'panic meters' in most tri-state river cities.

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Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2013 12:00 am

The Ice Harbor gates closed Thursday as the Mississippi River surpassed the 17-foot mark, which is considered flood stage in Dubuque. But the city's Public Works Director Don Vogt said there is no sense of emergency. The river was expected to crest at 17 feet, 6 inches on Friday and remain near 17 feet for several days.

"The Army Corps of Engineers decided years ago, before there was a floodwall, that at 17 feet people start getting wet in Dubuque," Vogt said. "The river doesn't seriously grab our attention until it gets to about 20 feet."

Emergency management officials in southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois shared Vogt's belief that significant flooding is not of immediate concern. Everyone is, however, keeping watch.

"As of now, we're monitoring conditions and hoping no significant rain falls until water levels drop a bit," said Tom Lange, Jo Daviess County emergency management coordinator.

When the Mississippi reaches 17 feet, Lange said, water will creep into the Shore Acres area of East Dubuque. He said the city's flood task force met Thursday to review its action plans. The rest of the county, he said, is more concerned with smaller rivers, creeks and streams. The Galena River crested Thursday and briefly escaped its banks, but City Administrator Mark Moran said it visibly receded Friday.

Prairie du Chien, Wis., City Administrator Aaron Kramer said the city has 20,000 sandbags on standby, but emergency management officials aren't anticipating flooding.

"St. Feriole Island is open for business, and nothing has got our panic meters going," Kramer said.

Glen Haven, Wis., closed its stormwater drains in case additional rain causes backflow from the river into the city sewer system. Cassville, Wis., however, did not take that precaution, Grant County Emergency Management Director Steve Braun said. He said Glen Haven would have to pump additional rainfall back over the levee. Braun said the county has 70,000 sandbags ready, but it has not received any requests to use them.

"If the river forecast remains as it is, we'll be in good shape," Braun said.

Vogt said the National Weather Service predicts the river will recede slowly. Several inches of snow remain on the ground in Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, but cool temperatures should prevent it from melting quickly.

"As long as you have that cycle where the melting mostly occurs in the day and either slows down or stops at night, we won't see a deluge here," Vogt said.

Vogt said the city closes its floodgates based on standards established by the Corps of Engineers. At 14 feet, it closes the gates at the 16th Street detention basin. Between 15 and 16 feet, the gates at the Hawthorne Peninsula and Mauss Park are closed, and at 17 feet, the Ice Harbor.

He said the Corps doesn't measure the river at the Lock and Dam No. 11 but rather the train bridge.

"A lot of people assume the elevations along the river are all the same, but because of topography they are different, which is why we close the floodwall in stages," Vogt said. "The Corps controls what we close and when."

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