The kids of all ages I saw frolicking in the spray rising from the boiling froth in the Gavins Point Dam Sunday were having a ball. I’m sure they had no idea how much trouble those record releases of 160,000 cfs – enough to drain the 492,000 acre foot Lewis and Clark Lake every day-and-a-half – were causing along the Missouri River downstream.
I saw that damage first-hand from the air on Tuesday when I photographed the flooding between Sunshine Bottoms and Peru. I knew things would be a mess at Niobrara and below the Platte River. But I didn’t expect what I saw at Fort Calhoun, where the river stretched from bluff to bluff. I didn’t think I’d ever see that in my lifetime. Neither did 99.99999 percent of the people who live and work along the river.
Nearly all of DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge was underwater. Where I-29 and I-680 meet, only the cloverleaf interchange is visible. There is water miles from the river once flowed, especially in the valley between Hamburg, Iowa, and Nebraska City.
It’s not the Corps of Engineer’s fault. Blame God and the rain he dumped on Montana this spring, and the snow he sent to the mountains in the upper reaches of the Missouri River watershed. Those precipitation levels were of historic proportions, and so is this flood. The Corps didn’t guarantee flooding would end when they built the six big dams on the Missouri, only that it would be reduced. It has been.
But the Missouri was once a wild river that rearranged geography each year. The Big Muddy is again. It’s going to be a long summer. Say a prayer for those who have already lost their homes, farms and businesses, and for the many more that might before the great flood is over.