Notes from the Field, June 13, 2011, The Missouri Floods West of Onawa

Onawa, Iowa.  With this past week’s water releases from Gavin’s Point Dam, the Missouri south of south of Sioux City, Iowa, is spreading out.  West of the small farming community of Onawa, the river is moving into its former floodplain.  Near the bridge over the Missouri between Onawa and Decatur, Nebraska, the river is at least a mile wide and growing.  Standing next to Highway 175, it’s impossible to see the river’s north shore.  The Missouri isn’t quite an inland sea here, but it is close to becoming one.  Swallows fly above the engorged river, diving on the millions of mosquitoes, gnats, and flies that are flourishing in the marshy habitat formed by the floodwaters.  The flood has been a benefit to insect life and all the creatures that feed on bugs.  Dark river water has started to lap over the shoulder of Highway 175.  At least one lane of this link between Nebraska and Iowa will be inundated later this week when the Army releases even more water from Gavin’s Point Dam.  A small trailer park just off the highway to the north has already succumbed to the flood.  The owners were seen wading through the water, hoping to salvage personal belongings from their sunken residences.  It is dangerous wading through the floodwater.  A person is in constant danger of stepping into an unseen hole and drowning in the filthy water.  Looking down at the river from atop the Decatur Bridge, the Missouri resembles a racetrack as it speeds off to the south.  The water in the center of the river is foaming and thrashing with waves, boils, and eddies.  The river is moving fast as the narrowed and straightened navigation channel propels it forward.  At Decatur, the river is stealthily creeping through corn rows on its silent approach toward town.  The residents of Decatur are not happy with the situation.  On the ramp to the toll bridge, someone has erected a sign that reads, “This Flood Brought to You By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

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