The last twelve months haven't been exactly stellar for the Army Corps of Engineers. They've been far worse for thousands of people who've had to deal with the results of their pooch-screw policies in regard to management of the Missouri River System. Their lack of credibility with people in the Dakotas was validated when the Argus Leader newspaper uncovered emails with bombshells such as Todd Lundquist's quote saying, "I'm headed home. I no longer look people in the eye and tell them the forecast is 85,000 cfs from Garrison." Later releases would reach nearly double that rate. While there was a lot of rumbling and grumbling going on, I stumbled upon a another sort of rumble:
I was surprised to find this event on the USGS earthquake watch website, an 3.5 magnitude quake west of Fort Peck which hit on July 1st. This was a day or so before an oil pipeline burst beneath the Yellowstone River far away near Billings, an event which grabbed all the headlines for a few days. While I don't think this quake was directly related to the spill, I remember seeing some other quakes much closer to the pipeline leak at the time. What was interesting was that nobody spotted the 3.5 shaker and either tried to connect it to the pipeline failure or use it to sensationalize the possibility of a failure at Fort Peck.
Remember, this was about a month after environmental activist Bernard Shanks published a guest commentary on the St. Louis Today website outlining his fear of a "domino effect" on the Missouri River System. His nightmare scenario began with the failure of the Fort Peck Dam. While his article was very timely, it also coincided with one other important event: his publishing a book on the theory. I doubt that was a coincidence, but the whole thing gained a lot of traction in the Dakotas as we were already learning not to trust the Corps. Mr. Shanks appeared on local radio and links to his article were flying around Facebook rather furiously.
Then, of course, you have to wonder about this: an emergency bid being put out for the material which reinforces the Fort Peck Dam, the very one Mr. Shanks claims is the weak link and which was at 111% of capacity.
Naturally the last thing I wanted to do was contribute to any hype, so I just sat on my little discovery. I don't deal in sensationalism and reliable information was already hard to come by in weary communities already made nervous by the fluidity of facts. Therefore I resolved to wait until the flood waters had receded and the threat of Mr. Shanks' domino effect abated with them. I've watched as the river levels have fallen past the 9.79 feet of January 1st, 2011 and settled in the six-and-a-half foot range. While I think the event is certainly noteworthy, I certainly don't think it was worth hysteria.
Here are a couple of links to the event for the curious. Its ID is event 11948206 for those of you who want to dart straight to Google for your own research.
USGS Earthquake event website entry
USGS Shakemap web page for #11948206
Now let's hope that the management of the Missour River System doesn't put us in the same precarious position next year. In the unfortunate event that we find ourselves in a flood fight again, I hope the Corps will be more forthcoming and that people will resist the urge to play loose & fast with information. Events like this are far harder to endure when sensationalism runs amok as well.
[ add comment ] ( 7 views ) | permalink | Click a dot to rate this entry: ( 3.2 / 140 )
Here's another angle at the historic Northern Pacific bridge along our receding Missouri River. This has been one of my favorite indicators of the river's rise and decline.
As you can see, that's a pretty tall watermark. The river is currently at under seven feet, after a height of approximately twenty. I don't know how much longer this watermark will remain, but for now it's a stark reminder of how the Big Muddy behaved in 2011.
[ add comment ] ( 13 views ) | permalink | Click a dot to rate this entry: ( 3.2 / 158 )
Three months ago I visited Double Ditch to assess the impact of Missouri River flooding on the view. It was astounding; any trace of sandbars had vanished beneath a wide expanse of water. Now that access to the site is no longer prohibited, I was a little curious about what it looked like:
As you can see, we now have plenty of sandbar. In fact, there are plenty of other places along the Missouri that now have plenty of sand. Welcome to the new normal!
One other thing that's noteworthy, and hard to discern from these photos because they're framed so differently, is how much farther south the sun sets in mid-September compared to June. On the longest day of the year, just four days after the top photo was taken, the sun sets much farther north. As winter creeps closer and the days grow shorter, however, the sun's track moves southward and peaks lower in the southern sky during midday. It may be interesting to return to Double Ditch on the shortest day of the year and see where it intersects the horizon; if I do so, you'll see it here.
[ add comment ] ( 10 views ) | permalink | Click a dot to rate this entry: ( 3.1 / 176 )
The Army Corps of Engineers has some tough questions to answer. I don't envy them. A recent investigation is turning up some very interesting emails regarding the Missouri River flood situation.
The most notable passage I've read so far is where Todd Lindquist writes, "I'm headed home. I no longer look people in the eye and tell them the forecast is 85,000 cfs from Garrison." As it turns out, releases would eventually exceed that number by another 70,000 cfs... a fact North Dakota would be told only gradually.
There have been plenty of people making the case that the river was horribly mismanaged prior to the flood event. I wouldn't argue with that. Now it's time to figure out where everything went sideways and to prevent it from happening again.
In a way, I have a lot of sympathy for the Corps of Engineers; after all, they have strict guidelines to which they must adhere, guidelines which result in quite a juggling act as they struggle to make many competing interests happy. That's quite an unenviable position.
Any investigation and resulting action that is taken in the aftermath of the Missouri River flood needs to be more than a simple headhunt. It also needs to take a long, hard look at the way the Missouri river system master management manual is written. Perhaps the dams should be returned to their original intended purpose: flood control. That way when barge traffic, recreation, and an endangered bird begin to cause mismanagement of the system, people's lives and property don't become casualties of the resulting mess.
[ 1 comment ] ( 41 views ) | permalink | Click a dot to rate this entry: ( 3 / 158 )
No, I'm not talking about the Enya album. I'm actually talking about indications of how high the river level has been. One of the best ways for someone who doesn't live in a flood-affected area to get a handle on the water level is to find a familiar place which can give you a good point of reference. For many, including myself, Pioneer Park is one of those places. If you look at the photo above, you can tell that the water level has dropped significantly.
Picnic tables that were bobbing in the water before are protruding from the water quite nicely now.
The only thing monumental about these things is the the waste of tax money to produce them. In any case, there's a good reference point here as well. A clear high water mark can be seen and the water was up to the signage at one point as well.
That's not all: the pilings for the NP railroad bridge have a tale to tell as well. Note the turbulence along the side of the pillar. I've got some amazing photos and videos of that from earlier in the flood event, I just haven't had time to share them...yet.
Even at good ol' Fort Lincoln, there are signs of receding water. In addition to the birds-eye view of the flood from the top of the northeast blockhouse, there's also this little slice of backwater.
Once again, the structure gives a good indication of water finally receding. There's a beaver that hangs out in this little inlet who I think has been enjoying the high water levels and is in for some disappointment! A couple of weeks ago I watched him slap his tail as he swam back and forth.
With releases from the Garrison Dam continuing to diminish, I'm sure we'll begin to see a major difference. I notice that the river gauge in Bismarck indicated 23.67 feet earlier today, but that's obviously a glitch. Hopefully we'll start a steady decline toward normal river levels soon!
[ 1 comment ] ( 30 views ) | permalink | Click a dot to rate this entry: ( 3.1 / 110 )