Once Upon a Time

Bill Klingner transformed Mississippi flood control

Bill Klingner did the surveying and planning for Lock and Dam No. 21 located just south of Quincy. The dam was completed in 1938 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. | Photo courtesy of Klingner & Associates P.C.
Posted: Aug. 12, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Aug. 14, 2018 11:58 pm

William H. (Bill) Klingner was born in 1912 in Radiant, Colo. When he was a young child, the family returned to its Southern Missouri roots. He attended the University of Missouri, graduating in 1935 with a degree in agricultural and civil engineering.

During the height of the Great Depression, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps--a public works program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Through the CCC, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 were trained in soil conservation, reforestation and flood control. While in the CCC, he led several teams in drainage and erosion work along the upper Mississippi River.

His work caught the eye of Webster Bushnell, a retiring engineer of Bushnell & McCann, a Quincy surveying and engineering firm founded in 1905. He was offered a full partnership, and the firm became McCann and Klingner. One of his first projects was surveying and planning what would become Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy.

Klingner and Belle Louise Shuey married in 1937. Their first home was on 36th Street, just north of Broadway. At that time, 36th street was a rural gravel road. As a new engineer, he dreamed of expanding the company's services from surveying and drainage to full municipal engineering, including water and sewer systems, streets and highways, city parks and recreational facilities.

In 1949, the firm became Klingner & Associates, and for many years, he was the only licensed surveyor and engineer in the area.

His work for the upper Mississippi became a lifelong passion. The 1930s through the 1960s was a prime time for national investment in infrastructure. In less than a decade, 27 locks and dams were built on the 669-mile stretch between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn. These locks allowed for reliable navigation, which helped farmers and provided great economic benefit to the agriculturally rich area.

Flood control on the lower Mississippi officially started in 1763, when an ordinance was passed by the French colonial government, requiring landowners to complete levees by Jan. 1, 1744, or forfeit their lands to the French crown.

In Illinois, the necessary harnessing comes from both the 1818 and 1848 Illinois constitutions authorized by the General Assembly to grant charters for "internal improvements."

Such charters were available for navigation, drainage and reclamation projects. Much of the upper Mississippi land in need of drainage was included in federal legislation known as the Swamp Land Act of 1850. States were expected to reclaim "said lands by means of levees and drains" to both lessen the destruction from excessive flooding and eliminate malaria-breeding swamps to reduce mosquito populations.

Precipitation records maintained by the Illinois State Water Survey show the 1850s as the highest decade in state history with annual rainfall of 45 inches per year compared to the 1930s low of 35 inches per year and the current 40 inches per year.  

The privately built and locally financed levees north of St. Louis were built between 1880 and 1920, and organized as levee and drainage districts, subdivisions of their respective states.

However, most of these levees were built only to the high-water levels of 1851. The locks pooled the water higher on these levees, significantly reducing the level of flood protection, as well as the ability for natural gravity drainage.

For this reason, regional farmers and communities came together to create the Upper Mississippi Flood Control Association, successfully persuading Congress to pass the 1954 Flood Control Act, which essentially mitigated the impact of the navigation pools.

Klingner, along with Chairman Noah Schrock of Burlington, Iowa, testified numerous times about the inadequate design level in the 1954 act, and the need for increased flood control.

Under Klingner's leadership from 1973 to 1993, the Upper Mississippi Flood Control Association (which became known as UMIMRA), was successful in obtaining additional flood protection for south Quincy, Muscatine, Iowa, and Hannibal, Mo.--all before the Great Flood of 1993. None of these adequately designed levees overtopped in the flood.

The higher water elevations also increased seepage and reduced gravity outlets, which motivated Klingner to create economic pumping systems for our agricultural areas.

This project, in turn, led to a friendship with Professor Lewis H. Kessler of Northwestern Technology Institute in Evanston, Ill. Klingner provided research for the U.S. Navy on ship impeller designs; this research was, incidentally, helpful in the efficient design of impellers for large pumping system. Using this research helped to refine pump system designs and greatly reduce energy requirements.

National and international attention was given to Klingner's designs. Indian Grave pump station, completed in December 1951, was featured in Public Works Magazine; a 1954 Quincy Herald-Whig article deemed it the "Most Modern Pumping Station on the Mississippi River."

In 1967, Klingner designed the Peafield pumping plant in New Madrid, Mo., which was recognized by George Grugett, executive director of the Lower Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association, as the best designed plant on the Mississippi River.

Over the course of his career, Klingner designed and updated plants on both the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.

Klingner also was interested in parks and recreation.

Early in his career, he became the engineer for the Boulevard and Parks Association -- the predecessor to the Quincy Park District.

One of the first projects he completed for the Park District was the first 18 holes of the Westview Golf Course--and he used his own bulldozer for the initial grading of the fairways.

He also designed the 1964 Indian Mounds Pool, the 1980 Wavering Pool, Moorman Park and lake, Wavering Park, Johnson Park, Boots Bush Park and the river parks: Clat Adams, Kesler, All American, Squaw Chute and Art Keller Marina.

His final project was the Triangle Lake wetland enhancement and restoration in upper Quincy Bay. Shortly before he died in 1999, this project was honored by the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois.

His contributions to Quincy endure with the Bill Klingner Trail, a plan he first proposed more than 70 years ago to connect the community and park system to the riverfront, and an ongoing project today.


Michael Klingner is president and CEO of Klingner & Associates P.C., and has over 40 years of experience in the engineering and construction fields. He is a registered professional engineer in four Midwestern states. Bill Klingner was his father.



Petterchak, Janice. Taming the Upper Mississippi: My Turn At Watch, 1935-1999. Rochester, Ill.: Legacy Press, 2000.


"Most Modern Pumping Station on Mississippi River." Quincy Herald Whig, February 21, 1954.




The Great Food of '93

In the summer of 1993, nearly all the area Mississippi River levees overtopped, creating over $15 billion in damage. About 75,000 people were misplaced throughout the upper Mississippi Valley. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Great Flood of '93.