Noem warns residents to be prepared as Missouri River water levels rise
PIERRE, S.D. – Gov. Noem issued a statement on Thursday warning the public to be prepared as Missouri River water levels rise.
“Many South Dakotans have vivid memories of the 2011 flood,” said Noem, referring to when flooding along the Missouri River led to thousands of evacuations and left many areas under water for 3 to 4 months.
According to NOAA, flooding along the Missouri River Basin during the event caused approximately $85 million in direct damages, claimed five lives and led FEMA to issue disaster declarations in each state along the river.
Noem says state officials have been notified that the river’s water levels are currently rising, and are expected to remain higher than average for the next few weeks. Any additional rainfall could further exacerbate flooding concerns.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the dams and reservoirs along the Missouri river, has assured officials that they’ll be able to mitigate flooding.
Noem says the public should still be prepared in case the situation changes.
“As a precaution against possible flooding, the Department of Public Safety has worked with several South Dakota cities to ask the Corps to review their flood prevention plans to make sure they are updated and ready if needed,” said Noem. “We have received requests for assistance from the following cities: Pierre, Fort Pierre, Vermillion, Oacoma, Dakota Dunes and Yankton.”
Noem says her administration will remain in contact with the Corps and “will hold them accountable for any unscheduled increases in the river’s water levels.”
The agency has been criticized for how it handled the 2011 flooding, as well as more recent flooding this spring.
Many point out that in 2011 Corps operators withheld too much water in the system’s reservoirs early in the season, despite multiple warnings that the river was likely to flood in the spring.
That year, heavy snow melt and rain caused the river’s reservoir system to experience the largest volume of flood waters since record-keeping began in the nineteenth century.
Corps operators were left scrambling to drain the reservoirs to avoid dam failures. They ended up releasing water at over twice the rate ever attempted since the dams were built.
This led to more flooding in communities and farms downstream, which were already experiencing high water levels in many areas.
Rain and melting snow this spring has put the Corps in a similar situation of trying to mitigate downstream flooding while also releasing water from the reservoirs to avoid dam failure.
“While Corps officials have told us that they are confident in their ability to manage the Missouri River system, we remain vigilant and proactive in ensuring the state’s citizens have the most updated information regarding levels and are prepared should the situation change,” said Noem in her statement.
“We will not sit and wait for possible flooding to happen. We will be proactive. We will prepare for the worst and hope for the best. As I have told Corps officials this spring, the protection of people and property remains my number one priority.”