Flooding a rising concern on Missouri River

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June 2, 2011 - 7:00pm

The Missouri River is above flood stage along almost the entire eastern Nebraska border and more water is on the way. The Army Corps of Engineers has established a Joint Information Center to provide daily updates on the situation. Colonel Robert Ruch is Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District. He tells NET News' Grant Gerlock that the current flood in Nebraska started with record rainfall hundreds of miles away.


NWS Missouri River levels

Nebraska Emergency Management

Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District

Twitter #2011MoRivFlood

Flickr photos of Mo. River flooding

GERLOCK: Can you tell me a little bit about the situation that's behind the flooding that we're seeing right now?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: Yeah, we've had repeated rounds of heavy rain coupled with a record Plains snowpack and it's pushed the Missouri River reservoirs to a high level and that's what's forcing us to these aggressive and historic release levels out of our mainstem reservoirs. The huge rain events that happened over the last three weeks, one month in eastern Montana, northern Wyoming, western Dakotas - it brought so much rain into the area that in the past month the region has seen what it normally sees in a full year. Or in that same time you could basically say 300% to 600% of normal. It just continues to accumulate. What's happened is it's filled the reservoirs which had the space available in them for the snowmelt, which is a record amount of snow up in the high mountains right now. Typically we would meter that down through the system, but our flexibility has been taken away from us due to these historically high rains.

GERLOCK: When you look on the map you see a lot of green. You can almost make out the Missouri River just by looking at the flood warnings that are going on. This is incredibly widespread, isn't it?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: It is. This is a 1700-mile flood fight. We're flood fighting from Montana and eventually the impacts will be felt down as far as the confluence with the Mississippi River.

GERLOCK: Can you describe just how much water is coming through those reservoirs right now?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: Basically we have some charts that show inflows and outflows. Some of the peak inflows for some of the snowmelt could sometimes get up as high as 100,000 acre feet/day. Some of the inflows that we had during these storms were approaching 500,000 acre feet/day. It's just an incredible volume of water coming into the system and we're metering it out at 150,000 cubic feet/second when we get to our maximum period here in the middle of June.

GERLOCK: How bad to you expect this to get and where do you believe will be the hardest hit areas?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: Okay. How bad we expect it to get, Mother Nature will dictate. What we've done with the models we're running right now that folks are working off of is we've used the precipitation that has come into the system, the current reservoir status, we've allowed for normal precipitation, and we've included this huge snowmelt. So any variation from what we've put into the model now we'll have to adjust for daily. So I can't say it's going to go this high. Right now this is our very best modeling and we'll adjust it day by day. And that means if a rainstorms adjusts 50 miles from where it was predicted to be it could fall onto the basin of another reservoir causing a series of changes that will trickle through our system.

Another thing. We keep getting this question. Is this 1993? Is this 1881? Well, it's 2011. And I can't stress that enough. Every one of these is different because of all those variables of the snowpack, particularly when that's going to melt. As I said it's historically high. And when weather comes into the system. Sometimes people get into their mind, well, I lived through 1993 and if they say it's '93 or '97 then I don't have to do anyting. Look at the inundation maps that have been posted to our web page and our Facebook site. Then work with your local officials to decide the most prudent course of action.

GERLOCK: How about how long it will last? This isn't going to be over soon is it?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: No sir. Right now at Gavin's Point - Gavin's Point is what most people downstream look at - we'll be coming up to 150,000 cubic feet/second somewhere around the 14th of June I believe it is. That's sustained as far out into the future as I can see right now, and our model runs out 3 weeks. So that's sometime around July 15th. But that will continue until we get some flexibility back into the system so that we can get back into the type operations we need to provide the mitigation this system is supposed to provide. I would say we'll have extremely high releases this year through December. And we probably had high releases last year to get the system back into shape for this year's event.

What we're doing is we're flood fighting from way up in Montana all the way down through the system here. My district goes as far as Rulo, Nebraska and then Col. Tony Hofmann out of the Kansas City District carries it on down to the confluence with the Mississippi.

GERLOCK: You're talking about flood fighting. Can you tell me about what is happening on the river as you're preparing for the high water?

COL. ROBERT RUCH: We have some very large contracts right now. We're trying to get levees in in Bismarck and Mandan below Garrison Dam. And then working our way down, just talking the larger efforts going on, we have large efforts going on in Pierre and Ft. Pierre. Note that that's two state capitals being heavily impacted. Then coming on down to the Sioux City area we're working in the Dakota Dunes area and then also South Sioux City in Nebraska we're working on alignment for a levee right now that there's some very important infrastructure that that will help mitigate the risk for including the regional 911 center, an airport. So we're looking to provide mitigation to a pretty broad swath there.

Also, on the Platte River, we're working in North Platte. We have a contract in place and they're moving on that right now. Our estimated completion date of that is June 6th so we'll be ahead of the snow melt getting to that area. I was out there with Lt. Governor (Rick) Sheehy the other day. We had a public meeting out there, and we're moving. We also had a contract to put a channel in to divert some water around the airport and to protect some critical facilities at the airport that have to do with the weather service.

GERLOCK: Colonel Robert Ruch, thanks very much.

COL. ROBERT RUCH: Thank you, sir.



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