BENTON -- Officials from the St. John's Bayou Basin Drainage District are seeking support for changes they say are needed to keep up with significant changes in local conditions.
Scott Matthews, a board member for the St. John's Bayou Basin Drainage District, discussed his district's short-term and long-term plans during the regular Scott County Commission meeting Tuesday.
The district is made up of 45,000 acres located between the Setback and New Madrid-Farrenburg levees, according to Matthews, but actually handles water from a significantly larger area including water from the hills around Commerce.
"We drain about 500,000 acres," he said. "We're trying very hard to get control over our water, to be able to activate our own drainage system."
There is a lot of confusion due to the shared history, contiguous borders and similar names of the St. John's Bayou Basin Drainage District and St. John's Levee and Drainage District, Matthews explained.
According to Matthews, the St. John's Levee and Drainage District was given the authority in 1947 to operate drainage structures -- specifically, the pipe structure and gates at New Madrid where the drainage flows under the Setback Levee into the Mississippi River.
"They were the only drainage district in existence at the time," he said.
Matthews said a Ford Model A transmission was used to raise and lower the gates until sometime in the 1990s when they were no longer able to get replacement parts for the transmission and put in electric gates.
In 1957, the St. John's Bayou Basin Drainage District was split off from the St. John's Levee and Drainage District with the levee district retaining control and responsibilities for the gates.
"It's a problem from a lot of standpoints," Matthews said. "We think we should have control of our water."
When the Mississippi River is low, headwater pressure from the St. John's Bayou Basin Drainage District pushes the drainage district's water into the river.
If the river is high, the gates are closed to prevent the river from backing up into the drainage system.
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