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The Army Corps of Engineers Drains Lock & Dam 14

Marianna Bacallao, WVIK News

This winter, the bottom of the Mississippi River will be visible for the first time since the start of the century. Once every 20 years, the Army Corps of Engineers drains the lock at Lock & Dam 14 for maintenance and inspection. 

Col. Steven Sattinger oversees the dewatering process. He says the lock is over 80 years old, and while parts have been replaced over the years, a majority of the original remains. 

"It's a harsh environment for any sort of infrastructure. The river, obviously there’s freeze, there’s thaw. You see the snow all around me. We have to use salt for the safety of the employees on here to clear the snow on here. Salt and steel and concrete don’t mix well as everybody in the Quad Cities probably knows." 

It takes 24 hours to pump nearly six million gallons of water from the lock. Around the bridge, the water pressure rises to 10 feet. That's enough to knock over a house. 

The lock will be drained for up to 60 days. Sattinger says that shouldn't affect commercial traffic. During usual winters, the lock is closed. 

"There is some local traffic; LeClaire has a quarry and some sand that they might want to get down. I'm sure the folks at the I-74 bridge are looking for some stuff to come through this chamber, so we're working as hard as we can to open it on time. So, there is some local traffic, but generally, the industry knows we're going to be closed." 

Lock 14 is scheduled to reopen on March 15. 

Marianna Bacallao is WVIK Quad Cities NPR's 2020-2021 Fellowship Host/Reporter. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism and served as Editor-in-Chief for the student newspaper, The Cluster.