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Sediment an issue below, above Gavins Point

James River Water Development District Director Randy Grismer, left, and Yankton County Commissioner Garry Moore step off the sediment flats to the former river bank on property owned by Gerald Koster, not pictured, who lives southeast of Yankton. The trees in the distance mark the new channel of the Missouri River. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

YANKTON -- Gerald Koster's home on the Missouri River southeast of Yankton is no longer on the Missouri River.

"I'm the only guy who built his house by the river, and the river left," said Koster, 62, who constructed his home in 1990.

Koster, who owns the Walnut Tavern in Yankton, later acknowledged that neighbors were also affected by the massive water releases from Gavins Point Dam in 2010 and 2011 that shifted the Missouri's channel from Koster's front yard to a point about a mile farther south. The dam is about five miles west of Yankton.

"Once I could enjoy a view of the river from my deck. Now when the winds come up, I get sandblasted," Koster said Wednesday while talking with James River Water Development District directors during a field trip that was open to the public.

JRWDD Manager Dave Bartel later discussed the tour during a regular meeting of the JRWDD board on Thursday at the Kelly Inn in Yankton.

The sand comes from the massive amount of sediment stirred up from the water releases at the dam. As the Missouri cut a deeper channel to the south, silt and river sands boiled into and filled the channel that once took it past Koster's place.

The changes to Koster's 160 acres extend about a quarter mile farther east, where the James River once connected with the Missouri in a roiling whirlpool basin that was once 20 feet deep, said Koster.

That now waist-deep area looks like a millpond and the James River slows to a 6-inch deep trickle where it enters the Missouri a mile south. An area that used to be popular for water skiing is no longer navigable and a crop of young cottonwood trees blankets the sandy former river bottom.

Koster used his all-terrain vehicles to give rides to JRWDD directors and the public in an effort to enlist some support for possibly deepening the channel between the James and the Missouri.

JRWDD local director Greg Koepsell said the change shocked him.

"I just about fell over when I saw this," he said. "It's sad."

Sandy Stockholm, executive director of the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition in Springfield, took advantage of the tour.

"We're more focused on the sedimentation in reservoirs," she said, "but if we're promoting to move sediment downstream, we want to know what's going to happen to it. We want it to be beneficial for endangered species downstream and not just think about getting rid of it."

U.S. Geological Survey Chief of Hydrologic Studies Dan Driscoll, who was in town for Thursday's JRWDD meeting, said changes like this occur.

"The river's done what rivers are supposed to do, which is move a lot of sediment, but where it will move from and where it will land is a difficult thing to predict ahead of time," he said.

Driscoll had no data available as to how much sediment has been moved.

Other than aesthetic issues, no other specific problems have been identified, he said.

A decision would have to be made if the cost of improving a channel from the James to the Missouri would be worth the benefits derived, said Driscoll, noting that the associated cost in permit fees, engineering and machinery would be sizable.

"It would require moving a huge amount of material. If something is to be done, it would likely be the Army Corps of Engineers who would tackle the project," Driscoll said.

Yankton County commissioners Garry Moore and Allen Sinclair also toured the old river bottom site.

"The Jim River just built a dam here and the river spread out," said Moore, summing up the change.

He said there is concern flooding from the river that could affect landowners who were not previously affected.

Bartel told the development district directors on Thursday no clear solutions are at hand.

"We're not sure where to go from here," he said. "Things changed a lot down there, and there's not a lot of interest in the Army Corps of Engineers about getting things done."