By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — When record-setting, mid-April storms caused flooding of the Illinois River, damaging structures and rural properties along the river, the rushing waters robbed some farmers of their operations most valuable asset: its soil, according to a Farm Bureau official.
“With as much as farmland is selling for these days, some farmers were watching their rich topsoil – worth $10,000 to $15,000 per acre – wash down the river,” said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau. “That was money leaving the farm that’s not going to come back.”
Though some farmers reported damage resulting from the storms, which led to record water levels in the Illinois River at Peoria and other measuring points,
Peoria was mainly spared the more extensive damage reported upriver at Marseilles (where over 200 homes were rendered uninhabitable) and Utica, among other communities.
“As far as farm damage, it was primarily focused on waterways, dry dams and terraces,” said Kirchhofer. “Several washed out or were heavily eroded. In some cases, farmers will have to go in and repair those structures,” Kirchhofer reported. “There was the small (Spoon River) community of London Mills near the Knox County border that was flooded out, but other than that in most of Peoria County the flooding was not too bad.”
Farmers with properties along the Illinois River were kept busy after the storm gathering debris such as branches, tree trunks and refuse that washed up onto their properties for burning or other disposal. “But the erosion was the primary factor that farmers hate to see,” Kirchhofer said. “With six inches of rain falling in such as short time (on April 18) it was hard to combat.”
Jim Rumbold, a Sparland, Ill., resident who farms in Peoria and Marshall counties, said planting timing, crop selection and conservation structures on his farmland were all affected by the flood.
“We’ve got a 100-acre pond” for a crop field in the Chillicothe area just off Rome West Road,” Rumbold said. “We usually get to farm (the property) every year. Now and then you would get a couple of acres with water, but this is the most we’ve seen in quite some time.”
Losses would have been greater for Rumbold – and many other area farmers – if a persistently soggy spring hadn’t kept him out of his fields and from planting crops before the flood came. But the rains have washed away any choices Rumbold would have had as far as crop selection, planting schedules, etcetera.
“What’s really going to cost us is planting timing, waiting for the water to (recede). So there will be no corn; we’ll have to go to beans on that field,” said Rumbold.
After Rumbold can finally get into the field and plant his crops, he’ll have to turn his attention to damage control.
“We had a lot of erosion control structures sustain damage – it was just too much water at one time. We’ll have to push the dirt back where it belongs and put them back together again,” he said.
State and federal damage assessment teams mobilized in Peoria County on May 10, beginning a door-to-door survey of homes damaged or destroyed on River Beach Road in Rome. Since April 29, Federal Emer-gency Management Agency (FEMA) and Illinois Emergency Mgmt. Agency (IEMA) teams have documented flood damage to 3,880 homes, according to Jonathon Monken, IEMA director. “Our teams are continuing to collect the information needed to request federal assistance,” Monken told reporters, while standing on the still-swollen west bank of the Illinois River. “With 49 Illinois counties across the state impacted by flooding, this process takes time. The teams are working as quickly as possible, while still taking time to document the full impact of the flood on people and their communities.”
Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn requested a federal disaster declaration for 11 counties where damage assessments were complete on May 9. More counties are expected to be added to the request when additional assessments are completed, Monken said.
In addition to gathering information on individual assistance needs for families located along the river, an infrastructure assessment of bridges and roads impacted by the flood is also ongoing, according to Greg Hughes, a FEMA reservist from Los Angeles who flew to central Illinois to assist flooding victims.