ONE GOVERNMENT AGENCY GETS IT RIGHT
Many of you saw the story in the Bismarck Tribune, reprinted from the Billings Gazette, about the record or near-record snowpack in the mountains in Montana this year. Statewide in Montana, snowpack stands at 257 per cent of average for this time of year. Snowpack above some of the rivers which feed the Missouri River is as much as 500 per cent above normal. Snowpack is measured by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Gazette story quoted a spokesman for the NRCS as saying “The main point of emphasis is that this is such a unique year.Â None of us can recall a year like this. We’ve seen high snowpack years before, but none where it’s sitting there this long.” Whatâ€™s interesting about that is that everyone, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, knew about it, but no one did anything about it earlier in the year when steps might have been taken to deal with what are now post-dam record floods of the Missouri River. When my friend Jeff and I started fishing on the river at Bismarck this spring (something we wonâ€™t be doing any more of this year) the Corps was releasing 14,500 cubic feet per second from the Garrison Dam. They told us that as the spring progressed, they were going to have to eventually take it to 55,000 cfs, which posed no flooding threat to Bismarck, but would seriously hamper our fishing efforts, which we groused about every day. Little did we know how inconsequential that problem was going to be.
I had an e-mail, from my brother out in eastern Washington state last week. He works for a public utility district which manages dams for hydroelectricity on the Columbia River and its tributaries.Â He said â€œColumbia River is raging, but staying within banks. Snow pack in Canada was phenomenal this year. Â Bureau of Rec dropped Grand Coulee dam by huge amountsÂ earlier. Â We are pushing over 200 kcfs thru our 2 dams right now and will be for some time.â€ Thatâ€™s right. The Bureau of Reclamation dropped the water level â€œby huge amountsâ€ behind Grand Coulee Dam in anticipation of the runoff from that snowpack. At least one government agency got it right this spring.
THE FLOOD OF 1952
A friend sent me a copy of the report of the U.S. Department of Commerceâ€™s Weather Bureau on the last big flood on the Missouri River in North Dakota in 1952 (except for the one, of course, which flooded the Missouri River Valley permanently when they closed the Garrison Dam a couple years later). The peak of the flood, the report says, was on April 6, 1952, when an ice jam above Bismarck broke loose and sent a torrent of water through Bismarck-Mandan. That day, at 10 a.m., the flow was 25,000 cfs at Bismarck. By 6 p.m. it had increased to 500,000 cfs. Yes, you read that right. An increase of 425,000 cfs in 8 hours. Imagine that wall of water coming at you. The river gauge at Bismarck read 18.8 feet at 11 a.m. and the river crested at 27.9 feet at 6 p.m. Compare that to the predicted height of 20.6 feet at Bismarck for this flood, which caused massive diking and flood preparations. That flood was 7 feet higher than this one was originally predicted, and 10 feet higher than the Missouri River right now, today, at Bismarck. And it came with little warning.
I actually remember that floodâ€”it is one of my earliest memories. We (my dad, mom, sister and I) were traveling from Hettinger, where we lived, to Devils Lake, where our grandparents lived, for Easter. The only way to get across the Missouri River then was over Memorial Bridge. To get to it, you drove on Old Highway 10, which went through downtown Mandan, down the Strip, across the river, and through downtown Bismarck. I remember as we drove down the Strip we were following other cars, driving through water (Iâ€™m thinking this was in the first days or week following the crest), and sticking my head out the window of dadâ€™s 1950 Oldsmobile to see the water splashing up from our tires. It might have been a few inches or even a foot deep at that time. And I remember my dad saying something like â€œTheyâ€™re building a great big dam up north of here so nothing like this will ever happen again.â€
I used to think Congressman Anthony Weiner was a really cool guy. Smart, handsome, articulate, with an equally smart and beautiful wife, and a long career ahead of him as a leader of our country. And really cool. Until this week. When I saw the picture. Wearing nerd underwear. Thatâ€™s right, only nerds wear that kind of underwear. Cool guys would never be caught in THAT. Darn.Â Another myth shattered. Sigh.
Other than a little treat I’m going to share under the category “The Best Things Ever Written About North Dakota” this weekend or early next week, this is my final post for June. Lillian and I are heading west to continue our “Music and National Parks Month.” We started with a terrific performance last night by the Moody Blues at the Bluestem Performing Arts Center Amphitheatre in Moorhead. We’re continuing next week with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in the mountains in Colorado, where we’ll see and hear, among others, Tim O’Brien, Steve Earle, Sarah McLachlan, Emmy Lou Harris, Jerry Douglas, The Decemberists, Sam Bush, Old Crow Medicine Show,Â Mumford and Sons, and Robert Plant and The Band of Joy. Then it’s national parks, including Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Grand Canyon, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and more, finishing the month with a stop in Boise to see Alison Krauss and Union Station in concert. See you in July.