Iowa Public Television


Flooding fears from Minot to Missouri

posted on June 24, 2011

Policy reforms in Washington are emblematic of the challenges confronting ethanol producers these days, and Mother Nature also is making her presence known.

Widespread flooding along the Missouri River is complicating shipments of dried distiller's grains. Burlington Northern closed its major line through Minot, North Dakota Friday.

And from Minot to Missouri, residents are hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst.

Flooding fears from Minot to Missouri

Civil Defense sirens sounded in Minot, North Dakota Wednesday, prompting thousands to evacuate to higher ground as the Souris River quickly escaped its banks.

The Souris, swollen from rain and snowmelt, could crest as early as next week, five feet above the previous high-water mark set in 1881. And residents in the swollen watershed already evacuated once this spring under similar circumstances.

"About two weeks ago, we had a crew here and moved everything out, and started moving everything back in this last weekend. Now we're moving it all back out again."

Last ditch efforts are underway in hopes holding back the raging waters, but one-quarter of the city's 40,000 residents jammed local highways trying to escape the waters' fury.

The Souris begins in Canada and meanders briefly into North Dakota before heading back north, eventually into the Arctic Ocean. But that doesn't mean residents along the Missouri River are out of harm's way.

Just south of Minot, lies Garrison Dam. And, for the first time in history, its spillway is releasing water into the Missouri River at a rate of 150,000 cubic feet per second.

"This has been a historical wetspot here and we've had some boil activities."

In Bismarck, North Dakota, levees along the Missouri also are facing substantial pressure from the high waters. National Guard troops are patrolling the area and pumps are working overtime trying to keep waters from rising further and weakening already-stressed levees.

And the operators of this marina also preserved a sense of humor even as other businesses nearby are surrounded by water.

The Oahe Dam also is releasing water at break-neck pace. Col. Robert J. Ruch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: "We're here at the Oahe outlet tunnels passing 110,000 cubic feet per second, that's the max discharge of these tunnels, as you can see it's a pretty violent reaction down here where it comes out."

On-lookers caught a close-up view of the massive amount of water heading downstream to Pierre, South Dakota. Residents hope levees will protect residential areas including this sports complex, and the local golf course also has been inundated by water. The Army Corps of Engineers opened up the Gavins Point Dam even further this week to an all-time high of 160,000 cubic feet per second. The increased rate is due, primarily, to recent heavy rainfall in the Missouri River basin.

That additional water is headed downstream to the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, where riverfront landmarks continue to take on water. And the largest metropolitan area in the region expanded evacuation strategies, if levees protecting the region are threatened.

Just south of the metro in Bellevue, Nebraska, common signs illustrated how high the water has climbed. This basketball court looked more like a swimming pool this week as the Missouri surged into areas far removed from its banks.

In southwest Iowa, more evacuations are taking place -- but for now, only as a precaution. The area around Interstate 29 is being cleared on concerns of water flowing over the top of local levees. Seeping groundwater also has risen in the area protected by the barrier.

This week's "big breech" occurred just south of the Iowa border in Atchison County, Missouri where water overtopped the levee and spewed into farm fields. Since the earthen berm dates back to the 1940s, the release was welcomed, by some, who fear the water threatens already-stressed barriers.

The Missouri National Guard continues air support in hopes of shoring up weakened levees. In Northwestern Missouri, Black Hawk helicopters dropped large bundles of sandbags onto weak points of levees in an effort to save more farms and rural communities along the Missouri River.

Meanwhile, back in Minot, housing is expected to be a major concern, long after the waters recede. Workers in the state's booming oil industry already have taken up available housing, forcing many into shelters or out of town — perhaps, for good.

Tags: agriculture floods Missouri River news North Dakota rivers water