ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - While Alexander County is still dealing with the aftermath of the flooding disaster that hit in January, it has yet another issue.
A much, much bigger concern, in fact.
Many officials in Alexander County are concerned about the river creating a new path through the county.
If it did that, the county would lose about an estimated 4,000 acres, according to Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny.
Denny said this is a very real issue and a big part of Alexander County would become an island that won't be accessible.
New path created in 1993
Back in 1993, the major flooding along the Mississippi River broke through a portion of the levee. It broke through about 3/4 of a mile north of where the Lens Small Levee broke just months ago.
During what is now known as the Great Flood of 1993, the river created an extension of the river into the county that has since been filled with water.
It also created striations in the land where it flowed across and into the Mississippi River just southeast of where the water came in, creating a shortcut that skipped over a 14-mile stretch of the river.
The river did that again during the flooding in January.
Alexander County officials said that the Corps of Engineers have already installed rock dikes to help the river stay its current course and to help minimize erosion of more land in that same area in the county.
However, the dikes are small and only cover the north and south ends of the Lens Small Levee where it broke, leaving the middle still open.
County officials said there is a design plan in the works to rebuild the levee there.
However, Jeff Denny feels certain the levee will not be rebuilt by the time the next spring flood comes, if there were to be a flood.
So the fear remains that the river will continue to erode the land and work on making its new path through the county.
With that in mind, Denny said if the new river would pass through there, new levees would have to be built along side it.
Until they build the levees, the river would consume pretty much all of the 4,000 estimated acres of what is called "dog tooth bend."
New path means new problems
If the river did change course, that would be a massive problem for Alexander County and for the entire United States.
"The path it would take would cut across a bunch of our roads," Denny said. "That's a lot of property that you would no longer have access to."
That means the county would have to relocate everyone that lives in the estimated 4,000-acre area that would be under water, or otherwise inaccessible, because of the water.
Farmland there is mostly sand right now, but it would make the land permanently unusable.
"If that river gets up again, it's going to keep doing that, take out more levee, take out more farmland, as it goes," he said.
Workers have already begun working on the levee repairs, with the first phase of bank-line restoration wrapping up on Feb. 16.
Phase 2 repairs include repairing a portion of the scour hole, and potentially constructing a grade control structure on the land side of the scour hole. That is scheduled to be finished by March 7.
"It'll help some," Denny said. "But it's definitely not enough to help protect us this spring. That's such a low level, you'll have 20 plus feet flowing over the top of it. So, yeah, it will slow down a little bit but it's going to keep on doing what it has been doing."
Denny also said that the river would deposit all the dirt and ground it eroded out, dropping it into the river south of this area, which could ultimately fill the river up and make it very shallow in areas.
"As of right now, it's picked up a lot of this sand and debris, but its just moved it a little farther inland," Denny said. "If it were to cut on through there, every bit of sand and dirt that comes out of that, the vast majority of it is going to drop downstream somewhere, right in your channel."
If that happened, the river there and just south of there, would all have to be dredged out.
Then there are problems not many people think about, like the Bumguard Cemetery that would possibly have to be moved because of the threat of being under water.
As it sits now, the cemetery is filled with sand and some headstones that still stand barely visible, with other headstones knocked over because of the force of the river when it flooded in January.
The flooding would also create a shipping disaster if the river created a new path.
Alexander County States Attorney Zach Gowin said the water would be so swift through this area that boats wouldn't be able to navigate through there upstream.
"With that break in the levee, that is going to affect river traffic and that's a big part of our national economy," Gowin said. "With the way the current goes and things, if there's a break in the levee, that changes the way those boats are going to be navigating up and down the river."
Michael T. Rodgers, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said there have been no dikes or levee repairs built for navigation and the Army Corps does not intend to build any.
"The purpose of our efforts have been to minimize the impacts that future high water events will have on the navigation channel," Rodgers said. "That is the only authority I have to work under [for navigation]."
New river course could take years
While this is a problem that is concerning leaders in Alexander County, it most likely won't happen anytime soon.
Denny said it could possibly take years or more. He then said it could also take another good flood to majorly damage this possible new river pathway so there is no telling when it could happen.
However, both county leaders and the Corps of Engineers all agree that everything they can do must happen as soon as possible in order to avoid a possible future major catastrophe.