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Duck Creek Flood

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

What follows is a word to the wise. Whenever I drive up Brady Street hill in Davenport, Iowa, to the top of the bluffs, and cross Duck Creek, I am remined of that Sunday school song about the wise man and the foolish man. I once knew it by heart. You remember that the foolish man built his house upon the sand, while the wise man built on rock. When the "rains came down and the floods came up," the foolish man's house went "smash."

Our Mississippi Valley version of that story compares the house on the flood plain with the wise man's house up on the bluffs. One doesn't even have to be especially wise to know that houses on high ground don't flood.

Or so we wise ones always believed. That is, until June 16th, 1990, when four years of severe drought across Iowa ended with a gully washer of a storm that turned 33 Iowa counties into official disaster areas. Hardest hit was Scott County and Davenport, where nine- and one-half inches of rain fell in a few hours.

Duck Creek is a small stream crossing northern Davenport in a narrow ravine, before following the bluffs down to the Mississippi at Bettendorf. Duck Creek has always carried the runoff from Davenport's high ground without too much difficulty. Now, however, in a manner of minutes, high up on the bluffs, Duck Creek spilled over its banks in a torrent that uprooted large trees, flooded the businesses along Brady Street, and damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 1,000 residents of Scott County, sending many of them to emergency shelters.

This was the hundred-year flood—a measure the Corps of Engineers uses to predict the frequency of a given flood. Duck Creek waters quickly subsided, but on June 29th, a second deluge of rain created a virtual repeat for residents along Duck Creek—two hundred-year floods thirteen days apart.

My little Sunday school song needs an addendum. Where water is concerned, no one is ever completely wise.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.