Downtown Davenport.

Without a large wetland in Davenport, this spring’s record flooding along the Mississippi River would have been even worse — and the river is rising again to near-record levels.

Brian Ritter, executive director of the Nahant Marsh Preserve, says the Scott County wetland and other backwaters around the state have absorbed water and stored it during floods for centuries.  “Throughout the years, there were people trying to either drain it and fill it in or whatever like a lot of our wetlands around the area,” Ritter says. “Had it been filled in, billions of gallons of water that we were taking on during this flood would have been forced into other communities for people to deal with.”

The 305-acre preserve is owned by the City of Davenport and the Nahant Marsh Board. Ritter says he promotes flood mitigation strategies that would create more wetlands capable of storing water. “We’ve already doubled the number of days where we’re at or above flood stage for this decade,” Ritter says. “It’s pretty alarming and it’s a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better.”

The Mississippi at Davenport reached 22.7 feet on May 2nd, surpassing the record set in 1993. With more rain storms, the river is rising again and may peak Saturday around 21.2 feet, just short of the new record. Ritter says the added benefits of creating more wetlands include more habitat for fish and wildlife, and cleaner water.

“Now is the time to act and figure out ways for our cities and other places to be resilient and be able to mitigate against future disasters like this one,” Ritter says. The frequency of river flooding is increasing and Ritter says returning wetlands to the Upper Midwest would help reduce the severity of future floods. During this year’s flood, high water covered nearly 99-percent of the nature preserve in Davenport.

Usually, the deepest part of the marsh is three feet, but it rose another ten feet when the Mississippi River set the record crest earlier this month.

(By Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)