Lots of questions remain about future western Iowa flooding
November 15th, 2011 by Ric Hanson
While the U-S Army Corps of Engineers is promising to focus more on flood prevention, many western Iowans are still questioning how that will be accomplished after the summer-long flooding of the Missouri River. Jody Farhat, head of the Corps’ water control office in Omaha, says she’s heard from plenty of worried folks up and down the river. “People are very concerned about potential flooding again next year,” Farhat says. “We’re committing to take a more flexible approach to our releases during the fall and into the winter and the spring.” Levees and dams along the waterway were weakened by the months of flooding and repairs on them are still underway. Farhat says the plan is to draw down upriver reservoir levels before the warm weather of 2012 arrives.
“We’ll get as much water out of the system as the weather permits and that we can pass safely without impacting the repairs that are going on,” Farhat says. “The dams and the levees are our number-one line of defense and we don’t want to interfere with any of that important work that’s going on.” Reservoirs upstream were inundated by heavy rains and record runoff from snowmelt, forcing the Corps to release water at such velocity that Missouri River levels were raised for the entire summer. Farhat says they’re working to plan ahead by dropping reservoir water levels now. “It’s not a specific amount,” she says. “We’ll base it on the current information and also on what we’re able to get out. When we get to this time of year, it really depends on the weather and where the runoff comes in. We’ll monitor that closely and hopefully we’ll be able to move some additional water out.” Farhat says the Corps will continue with “aggressive” flows from the dams for the next few months.
“We don’t want to cause icejam flooding this winter just to provide some relief in case it’s a wet year next year,” she says. “It’s a balancing the very real impacts of pushing extra water through the winter with that reduced risk of flooding next year.” Releases from Gavins Point Dam at Yankton on the South Dakota/Nebraska border continue at 40-thousand cubic feet per second, well above the long term normal for this time of year. Releases this summer topped 160-thousand CFS, or more than a million gallons per second.