(All of the following information is verbatim from the RDC press release.)
Reaching flood stage may not be hard to imagine if you take a minute to drive by or walk along the river’s edge — especially in Greenbelt Park, the lowest lying part of the downtown riverfront. And even though the river looks extraordinarily high, today the water level is only at +33.7 feet on the Memphis gauge. That’s 11 feet lower than where it is predicted to be on May 10th. An 11 foot rise in the mighty Mississippi river is a lot of water under those bridges.
The Mississippi River is a powerful and unwieldy water body and our city sits at its widest point where its annual 50 foot fluctuation is most evident. That’s the allure of the river and the heritage of Memphis. The US Army Corps of Engineers has tried to tame this magnificent waterway and many a paddler has tried to conquer it. But for the regular citizen — or the visitor to the Memphis in May International Festival — what do these numbers really mean?
Safety is Priority One for Memphis in May
The RDC has been working with Memphis in May officials to address the possible flooding issues in Tom Lee Park — especially as they relate to the power transformers that the festival uses. To assist Memphis in May, the RDC is leaving the electrical transformers in place as long as possible to be used for the Beale Street Music Festival this weekend. On Monday, due to the strong threat of flooding, the transformers will be removed. As a result, the power for the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Festival will have to be provided by generators. Memphis in May is aware of and amenable to this solution.
At +45 on the Memphis gauge, the Mississippi River will be lapping at the bank of Tom Lee Park. It will not, however, flood the park. At +46 on the gauge, the MIM World Championship BBQ Festival will be affected. At an elevation of +48, the river would flood about half of Tom Lee Park.
Comparatively, Greenbelt Park floods about twice each year. Once the water recedes, the RDC staff enters the park and removes the debris. This is our plan for Tom Lee Park as well. Of course, we will coordinate our effort with Memphis in May to ensure the least impact possible.
Additional Riverfront Warnings and Preparations
Greenbelt Park will be completely under water at +45, except for the walkway. The north parking lot will be flooded and the ramp will be closed there as well as at the Coast Guard. The southern parking lot will flood somewhere between +45 and +48.
On Tuesday morning, City crews were already putting the stop logs in place in the flood wall behind the Pyramid Arena.
Soon, Mud Island River Park will look even more like an island; but it will not flood. However, both ramps will be submerged. There may be limited admittance to the Mud Island Marina; although, the marina itself will continue to be physically accessible.
Neither Jefferson Davis Park nor the Tennessee Welcome Center should be impacted by the rising water levels; although, visitors will have a beautiful backdrop for their pictures and memorable views of our most incredible natural resource.
The Historic Cobblestone Landing will be completely underwater in the coming days, with the river creeping up the retaining wall on the southern end. The Memphis Riverboat Company’s vessels will be so close to the Cobblestone Walkway, you can reach out and touch them. In fact, their gangplank will rest on the Monroe Avenue ramp, just below Riverside Drive.
The big question is: Will the Mississippi River flood Riverside Drive? The answer is that it would take a river elevation of about +50 on the gauge for this to happen. And while we would never say never; it would certainly be a significant unforeseen event for our community.
So come on downtown and see history in the making. This just may be an experience you’ll tell your grandchildren about.