Dam Safety and History
2011 Missouri River Flood - 06/03/2011
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers remains focused on increasing water flows on the Missouri river. The plan is to reach 150 - thousand cubic feet per second by mid-June. Those who live up and down the river are focused on saving their homes and communities. Once the target flow rate is met - it is the first time in history that that much water has passed through the four dams in South Dakota.
The six earthen dams run from Montana through South Dakota. They were created as part of the Pick-Sloan plan which was approved by congress in 1944. Many in South Dakota wonder if these man made structures are strong enough to withstand the powerful impact of Mother Nature... SDPB's Stephanie Rissler looks at the history and safety of our dams.
There are four dams on the Missouri river in South Dakota. Oahe dam near Pierre is the furthest north. Down stream near Ft. Thompson is Big Bend. Ft. Randall dam near Pickstown was the first dam completed in 1952 and Gavins point near Yankton is the dam furthest south. It's been over 60 years since the first dam was built and close to 50 years since contractors finished the last structure. With the passage of time, weather and daily use - many are wondering can these dams standup to the increased water flow in the days and weeks to come. Eric Stasch with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers says South Dakota's dams are safe.
"I have total confidence we have a safe dam, we have many people watching it and many knowledgeable people watching it on a continual basis. We've brought in extra people to make sure it's safe and provide an accurate report and every report that we gets says the dam is good."
There are some in South Dakota who remember building the dams. Earl Geopfert lives a quiet life in White Lake South Dakota.
He sits on his patio outside, as he recalls his time working on the Oahe and Ft. Thompson dams. It was a massive undertaking for the time. Contractors built wooden frames that sit under thousands of pounds of concrete. The construction of the dams provided work for many l returning from World War II.
It was just another job. I did anything they wanted because no one else wanted to do it, Let's put it that way.
Earl returned home from the service and was drawn to the job because of the good wages, making up to $10.00 an hour in the mid 1950's and according to earl that was good for South Dakota.
"They stopped a lot of flooding, gave a lot of people jobs and they were good for South Dakota. All I can say was I've done it and been there."
The dam and reservoir system on the Missouri river is designed for multipurpose use that includes hydroelectric power, navigation, municipal water, irrigation, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational use and flood control. Many wonder if flood control was part of the mission - why are so many up down the river flooding.
David Becker with the Army Corp of Engineers oversees Gavin's Point dam near Yankton. He says even with the dams - floods are inevitable.
"Flood control projects do have their limitations and this being the wettest year we've seen in the past 113 years its stretching capacity of this flood project. The corps has called it flood control but now they are calling it flood reduction. We don't prevent floods we try to minimize floods and sometimes there are flood damages that can't be avoided and this is one of those years."
The Army Corp of Engineers is reassuring the public they have no concerns about the stability of the dams. Tom Curran is the project manager at Ft. Randall. He says in the off chance there is a catastrophic event - there is an emergency plan in place
"It depends on the situation and where a break would take place. You have might have time to communicate with everyone. We would get in contact with local officials they those would be police, local law enforcement. Our first mission would be to protect the public, public safety."
As the Army Corp of engineers continues to increase releases that will reach historic levels. Becker says the dams were designed to flow much more water than what we will see this summer. ,
"Gavin's Point was built to flow 800,000 cubic feet per second."
Ft. Randall was designed to flow 700 - thousand cubic feet per second.
For South Dakota public broadcasting, I'm Stephanie Rissler
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