Jackson County residents, ranchers prepare for flooding after rough 2019

Spring flood forecast calls for above average flooding in areas already hit hard by Spring of 2019

BELVIDERE, S.D. — The National Weather Service released their Spring flood forecast earlier this month and West River once again has an above average potential for flooding. Look no farther than Jackson County to see an area that is shaking their boots dry after flooding in 2019.

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A small town along I-90, Belvidere has seen its fair share of history – most of it unwritten. Just East of the Badlands, the White River runs through the middle of Jackson County just South of town, and reshapes the land from year to year.

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The Spring of 2019 saw a dramatic change to the landscape, and those that live here can tell you its unlike any Spring they’ve seen.

Mark DeVries, a local rancher around the Belvidere area talked about how 2019 set the bar for unusual years.

“There’s been high water marks in the past that have lasted for 24 hours, but this year they lasted for 2 weeks.” DeVries commented, “we received more moisture than what our soil types can adapt to, and so there were some big changes in the landscapes.”

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Mark DeVries speaking in Kadoka

The deep freeze led to massive ice jams that forced the White River out of its banks, creating entirely new channels. These channels cut right through pastures and made daily operations almost impossible. Seas of mud blocked equipment from getting to the fields. The bountiful hay that came from all the moisture was underwater for large portions of the Summer.

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Ice jam on the White River, Spring of 2019

“Normally I start haying in the middle of June, and this year it was the first of September,” Devries said.

Large swathes of land have sunk into the White River both along the banks and on the cliffsides along the river basin.

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Large pieces of the cliff side have sunk into the White River basin

Ice jams left ice blocks stacked 8 to 10 feet high, blocking essential roadways and forcing detours that could take nearly an hour to get around. Many of the county’s roads were damaged or destroyed by large washouts, and didn’t reopen for weeks.

With this year’s Spring forecast calling for more possible flooding, residents in Jackson County face a unique challenge.

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The old river town of Stearns, SD — the community moved the town to Belvidere after the railroad was built

With so little written history available to the region about climatology and weather patterns, residents and ranchers alike in Jackson County are true guinea pigs in a diverse and ever-changing environment.

“We’re learning as we go, but as far as weather patterns and recorded history, our time is in its infancy compared to the rest of the world and the U.S.”

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The White river in flood stage in spring of 2019

That means residents of Jackson County have to prepare for a unique season, every season – this means extra resources have to be accounted for, in case the White river decides to change course once again, or even dry up.

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Roads in Jackson County damaged by floods in 2019

So far, snow depth along the White River tributary is slightly above average, but March and April feature nearly 1/3 of West River’s annual snowfall — so the year is far from done. The good news is mild temperatures have limited frost depth- which means more moisture can be absorbed into the soil, leading to less runoff.

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Ice jams along the White River force water into new channels — right through ranch-land in Spring 2019

With so little historical data, the ranchers and residents of Jackson County must rely instead on personal experience, anecdotal history and each other. Ranchers like DeVries take it in stride though.

“We’ll pull together, it’s a tight knit community.”

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Chris, a local beekeeper, walks through the old channel of the White River, now covered up by 8-10 feet of mud and silt

Categories: Local News, Weather Daily