County and city officials said they are preparing for flooding in the area, while the National Weather Service is forecasting unprecedented water levels along the Missouri River.
Tuesday County Commissioner Terry Wilson said the county ordered 100,000 sandbags for use in the county.
The city of Washington received some of those sandbags, Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said. Some of the bags the county ordered also will go to St. Albans, an unincorporated community near the river.
Griesheimer said if the county needs more sandbags to prepare for potential flooding, it will get more.
“At this point, nobody here knows what to expect. We just don’t know,” Griesheimer said.
“This is a really unique situation because it isn’t really raining all the time. This is water that has been held back,” he said.
New Haven City Administrator Steve Roth said he is preparing for the worst.
“Right now we’re in a planning mode. We’ve ordered sand,” Roth said. “All indications seem to point to a reasonable chance of having to sandbag.”
Record Levels Upstream
Griesheimer said he has heard concerns about some of the dams, which have been in place for more than 60 years, failing.
“If they would, it could be a catastrophic event that would wreak havoc on everything downstream,” he said. “That’s not as wild of a scenario to believe as one might think.”
One dam in particular, the Fort Peck Dam in Fort Peck, Mont., was built with a flawed design, according to Bernard Shanks, an adviser to the Resource Renewal Institute.
Shanks has studied the Missouri River dams for more than 40 years. He wrote to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, warning of the potential flooding this year could bring.
“The Fort Peck Dam is built with a flawed design that has suffered a well-known fate for this type of dam — liquefaction — in which saturated soil loses its stability,” he said.
The three-mile-wide dam last opened its floodgates 36 years ago, Shanks said.
The upper Missouri River basin has “received nearly a year’s worth of rainfall” in the past few weeks, according to the NWS.
“In addition, snowpack runoff entering the upper portion of the river system is 140 percent of normal,” the agency said.
Because of those high levels of water, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has increased water release rates at dams upriver. All of the dams will need to be opened wider than they currently are, or else they could overflow.
When earthen dams are overtopped with floodwater, “they break and erode away, usually within an hour,” Shanks said.
The Corps has increased the flow from the Fort Peck Dam, the highest of the six major dams along the Missouri River, from 36,900 cubic feet per second Sunday, June 5, to nearly 60,000 Friday, according to KRTV in Montana state.
The previous record for releases from the dam was 35,000 cubic feet per second, a record set in 1975.
Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River Water Management office, told KRTV that inflows at the dam doubled from Tuesday to Wednesday.
As of June 7, the Corps planned to release 150,000 cubic feet per second from the Gavins Point Reservoir, the dam farthest down the river, by June 14.
That’s a rate more than twice the previous record set in 1997 and the rate is expected to last until at least August.
The rate will be matched at the Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend and Fort Randall dams as well, according to the Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division.
Figures Have Impact
Roth said he had reports indicating an even higher rate — 165,000 cubic feet per second.
“There’s a big disconnect right now in the numbers,” he said. “If the Corps’ numbers are correct...if the releases put us at 30 feet or up, we’re going to be vulnerable throughout that period.”
Roth noted that at a high sustained river level, the river could shoot five to 10 feet higher in the event of a heavy local rain.
The New Haven City Council will meet Monday, June 13, to discuss what actions to take.
Roth said the city there has always depended on volunteers to help sandbag the river.
“Volunteers filling 50-pound bags with shovels, that’s how we’ve always beat the river back,” he said. “It’s hard to plan on that. You assume people are just going to come out and help you, and the time is nigh.”
Roth said New Haven has another issue. Its city offices sit in the heart of its downtown, close to the river.
In the event of flooding, city crews may be busy both sandbagging the city and trying to relocate city hall.
“This high release of water, combined with normal inflow from downstream tributaries, will result in significant and prolonged flooding along the Missouri River from Jefferson City to St. Charles,” NWS said in a statement.
“To me, it’s a little premature to start filling bags,” Griesheimer said.
The county will hold an informational meeting for emergency planners along with county officials and the National Weather Service Tuesday, June 14, at 1 p.m. at the county government center in Union.
Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich, who also serves as the city’s emergency management director, said this year’s flooding is expected to be gradual, but could last all summer.
“People need to monitor and be serious about being prepared,” Halmich said.
Crests in Washington are expected to reach 23-32 feet, according to hydrological predictions and 27-33 feet in Hermann.
When the river reaches 17.5 feet in Washington, city officials close the lower riverfront parking lot.
At 23.5 feet, part of the riverfront trail floods. At 24.5 feet, Augusta Bottom Road begins to flood east of Highway 47.
At 26 feet, agricultural land in Warren County begins to flood and at 29 feet, Highway 47 floods near Augusta Bottom Road and at Lake Creek Bridge near Dutzow.
At 29.4 feet, flooding occurs at West Main Street and Tiemann Drive and at 30 feet, lift stations on Westlink Drive and on Front Street and Tiemann flood.
At 30.2 feet, East Fifth Street at Old Highway 100 closes as does Westlink between the Edison Brothers building and West Main Street.
At 30.9 feet, Westlink Drive floods north of the compost facility.
At 31.9 feet, Ninth Street and International Avenue flood and at 32 feet, the Highway 47 bridge closes as does Southbend Drive between Ninth Street and Steamboat Drive.
The record flood level in Washington is 35.4 feet. That was reached July 31, 1993.
Griesheimer said his major concern is keeping the Highway 47 bridge open. The bridge was closed to vehicle traffic in 1995 and closed to all traffic in 1993, he said.
In 1993, Missouri National Guard troops were stationed on the bridge to prevent people from using it.
Wilson said the county won’t be focusing its resources on agricultural levees, some of which broke in 1993.
Those levees, he said, are maintained by levee districts.
Wilson said areas impacted by 1993 floods are forecast to be impacted this year.
The weather service canceled a flood warning for Washington earlier this week, but warnings remain in place for areas in multiple states all along the river.
Thursday morning high water levels forced the closure of Interstate 29 north of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
State officials there have banned boating on the river in some places and are sending state workers door to door to warn about the flood in some communities.
Farther upstream the river rose past the moderate flood stage of 33 feet in Sioux City, Iowa, Wednesday, according to The Des Moines Register.
It is expected to continue to rise even before the Corps opens the Gavins Point Dam as wide as currently planned.