PEORIA — The river's rise has caused concern and worry among homeowners, business owners and city officials throughout the area, but a few people are enjoying the high water.
Donald Wilson of Brimfield was out bow-fishing in at the golf course formerly known as Detweiller early Friday morning. The flooded area was ideal for catching the carp, which like to come into the shallows to feast on plants. The water, which was at least 50 yards from where the banks normally are, was just deep enough for the fish to swim but shallow enough for Wilson and others to spot them.
And while it was bright and sunny for most of Friday, projections for the crest of the Illinois River flooding on Sunday and Monday now show water levels expected to rise to 28 feet in Peoria, the edge of major flooding, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln.
The updated projections were issued Friday morning and would put this river flood at the fifth-highest level in recorded history, according to the weather service. Kirk Huettl, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the updated projections accounted for snow melt from Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
Up and down the river, the high water is raising alarms. On Friday, Gov. JB Pritzker issued a state disaster proclamation for 34 counties along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, including Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, Putnam and Schuyler counties. The declaration will ensure state support to communities that are battling floods caused by weeks of elevated river levels and recent heavy rains.
“I have directed agency heads in my administration to ensure they are doing everything possible to help local communities prepare for and respond to the ongoing flooding risks across the state,” the governor said in a news release. "River levels are rapidly rising and with more precipitation in the forecast, many communities will need additional assistance. The state of Illinois is ready to help our communities as they work to protect our residents and critical infrastructure.”
On both sides of the river, crews were busy. In East Peoria, crews at Carl Spindler Marina and Campground were finishing their dismantling of various electronic outlets. Buildings had been cleared out and sealed as tight as they could. Fondulac Park District police Chief Mike Johnson noted the campgrounds were underwater at a time when they would normally be filled with people. The playground for children was also underwater.
"It’s a big hit for the park district. We lose roughly a month or so in revenues, plus the expense in cleaning and repairs to the facility. It could be $50,000 to $100,000 loss depending on how long we are closed," said Johnson who is also the district executive director.
Just up the riverbank a few miles, the village of Spring Bay was bracing for the water. At 28 feet, Lake Street is inundated with water, but residents are coping. One of those is John Bouchey, who lives on Josephine Street. He's a veteran of record floods, having moved to the village nine months before the 2013 record. Bouchey is looking more down the road, as in next week, when an inch or or so of rain is in the forecast.
"If it stays at 28 (feet), I'll be fine. Our backyard is the river. When I sit in the backyard, I am looking at the river. But unless it's an all-time record flood, then it's not a worry for us as our house sits farther back," he said, noting quickly, however, that many others might not be as fortunate within the village. "We'll be sandbagging (Saturday) in preparation in case the rain that is forecast for next week really comes. And we'll be helping others."
In Peoria, sandbagging efforts around the River Station were completed Friday afternoon. City officials have said the other buildings are currently high enough to be safe from flood waters. But water had topped the river wall and filled the grassy area where the Riverfront Village platform once stood. Benches were nearly underwater. And the riverfront dock, which is usually 10 feet below street level, was about a foot or two over as of Friday afternoon.
The city planned to close the parking lot to the south of the River Station at 7 a.m. Saturday. The parking lot in the 400 block of Water street will only be accessible if entering from the south, the city said in a news release. Water Street was to be closed from Hamilton to Main Street and from Liberty to the 400 block of Water, which would still allow access to the condos at 401 Water.
Visitors to the Peoria Riverfront Museum will still have access to the underground parking lot, but traffic will only be one way on Water.
Johnson reiterated what he's been saying — stay off the river. He pointed out the debris that's floating around plus the stronger than normal currents as proof that getting into water now is a bad idea.
Huettl, the weather service meteorologist, said the weekend should be fairly dry with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The next chance of rain comes Monday afternoon and through Thursday. Heavy rain for a few days is possible, he said. Then, the rain moves out Friday and Saturday but could be back again on Sunday.