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Feature Story: Illinois Town is High and Dry – Finally!

USDA NRCS Feature Story


Williamson County, Marion, IL

Since the settlement of this small town in Southern Illinois, flooding problems have presented a hazard to residents and businesses. Located on the crossroads of two important highways, Marion, Illinois, was constantly dealing with water levels as high as 5 feet during storms that produced as little as 2 or 3 inches of rain. However, on March 18, 2008, Marion experienced a 100 plus-year storm; a record rainfall with approximately 11.2 inches in 36 hours. “The water barely got to the top of the curb," said Mayor Bob Butler. Former scenes of closed intersections and evacuations were replaced with open streets; and residences and businesses remained above the floodwaters.

Photo of Mayor Butler reviewing the flood control project design.Butler has been the Mayor of Marion since 1964. He smiled when he said “In 1963, one of my campaign issues was to stop the flooding in Marion." It may have taken 30 plus years to do, but finally Marion is dry. This was the result of dedicated cooperation between the city, state, federal agencies and individuals. [Photo caption] Mayor Butler reviews the flood control project design.

The solution came when Bob Nelson, District Director for Williamson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), contacted the mayor about the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, Public Law 83-566 (PL-566). The PL-566 is administered through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help communities resolve flooding problems.

The effort began in 1988 after many discussions and studies. The first of three stages of work began in 1990 with the final stage completed in 1999. “We thought it would take 10 plus years to complete," said Tony Korando, NRCS District Conservationist, “But, we did it in 8 years."

Glenn Clarida, owner of Clarida Engineering, which is located in the flood area, said if the project had not been approved, he would have closed his building and moved out. “When the water rose," said Clarida, “it wasn’t unusual for me to have 12 inches of standing water in the building." Several businesses had moved out and the area was considered a 'dead zone’ that no one wanted to touch. Even the hospital would become inaccessible. “The mayor was instrumental in getting the project completed," said Korando. “If it wasn’t for Mayor Butler, this would never have been completed. His forward-looking approach made the difference."

NRCS Area Engineer David Webber said this was the first time Illinois NRCS had planned and designed a flood control project of this magnitude in more than 15 years. The previous projects are located in Chicago. “We were able to complete the project without any federal contracting," says Webber. “All contracting was done through the City of Marion and many local contractors participated in the construction of the project.

Since the project was completed, several new businesses have located in the area. Butler says the town has benefited by as much as $3 million in development. “We have experienced several large rain events since the completion of the project," said Korando, “However, this most recent storm exceeded the project’s design storm limit in many areas, yet it functioned way beyond any of our expectations."

Photo of Tony Korando, Glenn Clarida and David Webber Photo of project after completion showing businesses moved in.
Tony Korando, Glenn Clarida and David
Webber reminisce over the design plans.
Since the project has been completed, new businesses have moved in to the formerly flooded intersection

Project overview

The City of Marion is located in the Crab Orchard Creek Watershed which covers an area of approximately 52,600 acres. The project included 1.8 miles of channel modifications, including fish and stream habitat structures, and wetland mitigation. A 1.4 mile long floodway diversion was built along Crab Orchard Creek. Several bridges were replaced and an old bridge located on the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge was removed. The City of Marion also passed several new ordinances related to construction and stormwater detention.

  • The first phase began downstream where channel modifications were made to 2,400 feet of Crab Orchard Creek with an additional 7,500 feet floodway earth channel constructed to carry water away from town. NRCS provided the construction design. A local inspector was hired to oversee the work. This portion was completed in 1995.

  • The second phase also included a 4,760 feet earthen channel modification on Westend Creek and another 100 feet open-top concrete channel that was 8 feet deep with a security fence lining the sides. This portion was designed by Clarida Engineering and a local contractor and inspector from the City of Marion were awarded the contract. Modifications were made to address a sanitary sewer location that crossed where the channel was built and 10 residences were relocated. This phase was completed in 1997.

  • The third phase addressed the major flooding portion of Marion itself. A 30 ft. x 6 ft. concrete conduit was constructed under the problem intersection and ran for approximately 1,000 feet. This phase was designed, contracted and inspected by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The final phase was completed in 1999.

“Every time it rains I drive straight to the intersection and see the channel work," says Butler. “As I see it," he continues, “there are two major benefits. One, it has improved property values, and two, developers have moved in." That was his estimate but he speculated that “we never know just how much of a far-reaching impact there will be."

Both Butler and Clarida are very pleased with the results and the working relationship between the City of Marion and NRCS. “There was excellent cooperation," said Butler. “NRCS was outstanding to work with."

Webber said the total cost of the entire project was $10 million with NRCS contributing $6.25 million through cost-sharing and easements. Other sponsors included City of Marion, IDOT, Williamson County SWCD, Williamson County Commissioners, and Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


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For more information, contact:
Paige Mitchell-Buck, IL NRCS State Public Information Officer
IL NRCS State Office
2118 W. Park Court
Champaign, IL 61821
(217) 353-6606