ShareThis Page

S.D. residents blame corps for flood threat

| Saturday, June 4, 2011

FORT PIERRE, S.D. -- Sitting atop a 6-foot wall of white sandbags hastily stacked to protect his home from the rising Missouri River, 82-year-old Helmet Reuer doesn't buy the official explanation that heavy rains caused a sudden flood threat.

Along with his neighbors in an upscale section of Fort Pierre, Reuer thinks the Army Corps of Engineers blew it, waiting until too late to begin releasing water through the Missouri's six dams to give itself a cushion against potential flooding.

"It's human error," Reuer said as rising water neared his trim gray house.

Corps officials insist otherwise. They say they were in good shape to handle spring rain and melt from a huge Rocky Mountain snowpack until unexpectedly heavy rains of 8 inches or more fell last month in eastern Montana and Wyoming and western North Dakota and South Dakota.

"This is just a massive rain that fell in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time," said Eric Stasch, operations manager at Oahe Dam, the enormous structure that controls the Missouri's flow just above Fort Pierre and nearby Pierre, South Dakota's capital.

Crews have worked urgently all week to build up levee protections for the two cities, and say they expect to have 2 feet to spare. But Gov. Dennis Daugaard advised people in neighborhoods nearest the river to leave voluntarily in case levees don't hold, and hundreds have done so after a hectic week of moving possessions and adding sandbags around their houses.

They face weeks out of their homes until the river begins cresting in mid-June, with high water expected to linger for up to two months. The small town of Dakota Dunes, S.D., in the southeastern tip of the state, also has erected levees, as has Bismarck, N.D., though the situation is less serious there.

"I think they screwed up royally," former Gov. Mike Rounds said of the corps, as he moved some possessions from the riverbank house he and his wife built and moved into after he left office in January. "I think they forgot their No. 1 mission, and that's flood protection."

People here were prepared for some higher flows, but many were startled when the corps announced May 26 it needed to release water much faster than expected from the dams in Montana and the Dakotas.

Jody Farhat, chief of Missouri River Basin water management in the corps' Omaha District, said the agency made no mistakes and has managed releases in accordance with its manual. She said conditions on May 1 indicated peak releases at only a third of what they're now projected, and the reservoir system had full capacity to deal with flood control at the start of the runoff season. All that changed with the record rainfall in the upper basin and additional snow in the mountains, she said.

Farhat said heavy runoff from last year was released before the start of this year's runoff season, and discharges this spring were above normal even before the heavy rainfall upstream.

Corps officials declined a request for a one-one-one interview and provided some information by e-mail, but in a teleconference Thursday, Farhat said the reservoirs had reached the desired levels before snowmelt was to begin.

"And what happened was we had this incredible rainfall event," Farhat said. "That was a rainfall event in May, and that was the game-changer in terms of system operations."

People who live in the flood-threatened areas say this wasn't supposed to happen.










TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me