WOSTER: Oahe flood anniversary marks time for reflectionA year ago today, I was moving through a routine afternoon’s work when the director of the state Office of Emergency Management stopped by my pod to ask if I’d have time the next morning to attend a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a bunch of state and local representatives.
A year ago today, I was moving through a routine afternoon’s work when the director of the state Office of Emergency Management stopped by my pod to ask if I’d have time the next morning to attend a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a bunch of state and local representatives.
The topic would be runoff to the Missouri River system, the corps’ need to increase releases from Oahe Dam and other main-stem dams on the Missouri and what the long-range outlook might be for water levels flowing from Montana to the Mississippi River down near St. Louis. The OEM director made the meeting request in the form of a question, but it was pretty clear the correct answer couldn’t be anything but yes.
That first meeting the next morning, May 24, gave me and a whole lot of other people, our first real understanding that things in the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre were going to get pretty hairy pretty quickly. Heavy runoff from melting snow combined with serious rainfall in the upper Missouri River basin had water levels way above normal, and it was only going to get worse.
How much worse? That didn’t seem to be a question that could be definitively answered. The best answer at the team seemed to be, “Could get a whole lot worse.” For how long? “Could be a really long time.”
The next morning, May 25 — a Wednesday back in 2011 — the state’s Emergency Operations Center opened. It remained open a full month. Those who worked in the EOC spend the Memorial Day weekend there. Almost everyone else I knew spent that weekend sandbagging, helping friends, family and strangers move furniture, disconnect appliances and do all manner of things that few of them had ever dreamed they might be called upon to do in our quiet riverside communities.
Several members of my family came to town for the holiday weekend. I didn’t see much of them. They were filling, hauling or placing sandbags for some of our friends. My granddaughters were part of the sandbag crew, throwing the bags in the back of my pickup and negotiating slippery, muddy roads between the bagging sites and our friends’ houses. I don’t know if I ever told them how proud I was of their willingness to jump into the difficult, stressful business of trying to prepare for the emergency.
I don’t think I ever told Nancy that, either, and she was the one who organized our family, who made sure food was around for family and friends and who drove the pickup sometimes on those slippery roads. We celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary pretty much apart, although we crashed in the same house late that night. Our anniversary day, June 3, was the day after the levies were finished in the Pierre and Fort Pierre area and the day the corps bumped up the release rate from Oahe Dam.
Things are far different this year as Memorial Day — and our wedding anniversary — approach. Lake Oahe is 10 or 11 feet lower than it was at this time last year. The release rate from Oahe dam is a gentle 28,000 or so cubic feet per second. (For a long while last summer, the release rate was 150,000 cfs, and for a few crazy days it was pushed to 160,000 cfs).
A year ago, the sandbagging started while my boat was at the local marina having a few pre-season things done. I was the last one to haul my boat out of the parking lot, and I had to weave among sandbags the owners were stacking to try to protect their business.
My boat goes in for the pre-season check tomorrow. I anticipate getting it back at the end of the day and putting it in the water a whole lot more often than I did last year. For sure, I’d like to get out on the water for our anniversary. No reason we can’t celebrate this one together. We’re getting to the age at which each anniversary is a gift, not just a date on the calendar. It’s worth special notice, and so is the flood anniversary.