Tangled Troubles

Driftwood is shown caught in the railing of the Jamesville bridge Monday. The James River is slowly receding after record flood levels were recorded in the area over the weekend. 

Overly abundant rains that caused the James River to rise over the weekend are now being dealt with along the main stem of the Missouri River system.

On Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Northwestern Division, Missouri River Water Management Division hosted a phone conference call for local officials and media to discuss how the Corps is facing yet another hydrological challenge.  

Kevin Low with the National Weather Service (NWS) said that rain has been widespread throughout the region in the first half of September.

“We’ve had a very active hydrologic start to the month of September,” Low said. “There has been rain every day somewhere in the Missouri River basin each and every day so far in September.”

He said that rainfall amounts across the upper Midwest have been staggering over the last few weeks.

“There are broad areas of eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and northern Nebraska that have received in excess of 400% of the normal precipitation typically received in the first two weeks of September.”

Low said some South Dakota recording stations picked up more than 9 inches of rainfall between Sept. 9-12 alone.

“This incredible amount of rainfall that we’ve received since the first of the month has resulted in major to record flooding along the James, Vermillion and Big Sioux rivers,” he said. “Provisional stage records have been set at five South Dakota locations within the James, Vermillion and Big Sioux basins.”

The Yankton recording station was one of those along the James River that saw a record broken after the river crested at 27.3 feet Sunday afternoon — well above the 24.3 feet reported during flooding in 1984. As of 6 p.m. Monday, the river was down to 24.7 feet at the station.

Low said the region’s reprieve from substantial rains will likely be short-lived.

“Precipitation will re-enter the picture sometime Thursday and continue through the weekend,” he said. “During this time frame, the heaviest rain is forecast to fall in eastern Montana into the Dakotas with amounts in the 1.5- to 2.5-inch range as maximums.”

John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, said the latest heavy rains — which fell in large part beyond the reach of the Missouri River’s robust reservoirs — said the Corps took some mitigating action over the last few days.

“Over this last weekend, we reduced system releases from Gavins Point Dam from 70,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 60,000 cubic feet per second,” Remus said. “This was an attempt to reduce the peak stage between Sioux City and Omaha. Our models indicated that this reduction may prevent the flood from overtopping Interstate 29 north of Omaha.”

Plans have been to hold the releases at Gavins Point to 60,000 CFS for no more than three days before gradually bumping it up to 80,000 CFS.

“We presently have more than half the flood control storage to evacuate with just over 11 weeks left before we will have to reduce to our winter release rates,” Remus said. “Based on present and forecast conditions, we will be holding the 80,000 cubic feet per second release for the next several weeks.”

He said these larger releases were going to be necessary at some point.

“The temporary reduction that we did over the weekend did not precipitate the need for increased system releases,” he said. “The increased system releases were going to be necessary to evacuate the flood control storage.”

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While Corps officials are focused on the Missouri River system as a whole, in Yankton County, officials say that much of the flooding situation remains unchanged from the weekend, save for modest drops in the water level.

The Scotland river gauge, as of 6 p.m. Monday, was showing 19.8 feet, down from the 22.24 foot crest recorded over the weekend.

Yankton County Director of Emergency Management Paul Scherschligt told the Press & Dakotan Monday that road and bridge closures remain the same.

“The river is slowly going down,” Scherschligt said. “We’ve still got all of the roads closed that were (closed Sunday) and today.”

He said one potentially new problem area was manifesting itself Monday evening.

“There’s a little bit of concern with 448th Ave. and 309th St.,” he said. “It’s not over the road yet, but it’s getting pretty full there. … They cleaned out some ditches and we think it’s probably going to hopefully run away and we won’t have a problem.”

He added that the American Red Cross shelter at The Center remains open and that people with damage are encouraged to call 211 to file a report should the area become eligible for federal funding as a result of the latest weather event.

“We’re preparing, gathering data, trying to make sure everything’s good to go on our part if some federal monies can be gotten. But right now, we have no idea if that’s going to happen.”

Scherschligt said a major safety issue has come up.

“Please don’t take down the barricades,” he said. “We had a bunch taken down overnight (Sunday).”

He reiterated that it’s important for people to stay off of flooded roadways and away from closed roads.

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For an updated list of closures, visit http://ims.districtiii.org/closedroads/

Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.

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