Notes from the Field, June 11, 2011, Birds Do Not Cause Flooding

Sioux City, Iowa.  Some Missouri Valley residents are blaming the effort to save the least tern and piping plover from extinction for the present flood.  These ill-informed individuals claim that the Army held water in the upstream reservoirs this past spring to protect the birds and their habitat below Yankton from high flows.  This is a position taken by those who want to protect the navigation channel from public scrutiny.  The reality is that the Army stores millions of acre feet of water in the reservoirs each spring to ensure that the navigation channel from Sioux City to the mouth can maintain a nine-foot-depth from mid-March to mid-November.  The argument that the birds are to blame also ignores the fact that the Army has repeatedly, through the years, inundated the habitat of the birds in order to quickly push water through the Missouri River system.  The needs of the birds have never taken a priority over the needs of humans – never – not once.

The Missouri has overtopped the Army’s pile dikes and revetments in the Sioux City area.  On the Nebraska shore opposite the mouth of the Floyd River, the Missouri is roaring over the pile dikes.  The power of the river is apparent in the waves and white water.  It is highly likely that the force of the river is burrowing out deep holes on the downstream side of the pile dikes.  The foundations of the dikes risk are possibly being undermined by the river.  On the Iowa shore, near the mouth of the Floyd, a cluster of piles atop a dike have been knocked ajar by the onrushing river.  It may be only a matter of time before this weakened set of piles is carried away in the flood.  Visible from the loess hills overlooking the mouth of the Big Sioux/Missouri confluence are pile dikes on the Nebraska side of the river being hit by floating debris.  Logs, branches, and miscellaneous junk are pounding against the dikes.  The Missouri has become a battering ram against the Army’s navigation channel.

Mud Lake, South Dakota, (update).  The Army continues to construct a make-shift levee across the low end of Mud Lake.  The levee is supposed to keep the Missouri from entering its old channel within the lake.  The military fears that a reoccupied Mud Lake will threaten residential areas in and around McCook Lake, South Dakota.  The structural integrity of this levee is already questionable.  The lake behind the levee is rising as a result of the increase in the valley’s water table.  It is quite possible that an elevated Mud Lake, rather than the Missouri itself, will destroy the levee and allow the river into its former bed.  Three days ago, the road immediately adjacent to the levee felt firm underfoot.  Today, because of the higher water table, the road felt soft and spongy.  When the Missouri, which is now a half a mile away, abuts this levee, it will seek out its weak spots.  Boils and then blowouts may form on the saturated underside of the levee and along the roadway skirting it.

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