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Published May 28, 2011, 06:58 PM

Officials plan levees for Missouri River flooding

PIERRE, S.D. — State and federal officials announced Friday they intend to build emergency levees to try to protect homes and public property in Pierre and Fort Pierre from water pushed through Missouri River reservoirs to drain flows from melting snow and recent heavy rains.

By: Chet Brokaw, Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. — State and federal officials announced Friday they intend to build emergency levees to try to protect homes and public property in Pierre and Fort Pierre from water pushed through Missouri River reservoirs to drain flows from melting snow and recent heavy rains.

However, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said some homes will be hit by rising water when flows are increased again Saturday ahead of work on the 4-foot-high earthen levees. Homeowners should not rely on protection from the levees, but instead should take steps to protect their property as if the levees will not work, he said.

“We believe the levee construction is certainly very good news, but some areas will be inundated even as the levees are being constructed,” Daugaard said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday that more water than previously projected would have to be released from the Missouri River dams to deal with water flowing in from recent heavy rains in western South Dakota and North Dakota, and Montana and Wyoming. Residents of low-lying areas of Pierre and Fort Pierre worked late into the night Thursday to protect homes with sandbags and move possessions out of their homes or at least to higher floors.

Eric Stasch, operations manager at Oahe Dam five miles upstream from the cities, said contracts would be awarded late Friday for the earthen levees to be finished by next Thursday, shortly before the Corps of Engineers plans another increase in releases from the dam.

The levees will be built to a height that would handle more water than is currently projected to be released, Stasch said.

“We’re building in a buffer. We’re building in a safety margin,” he said.

Most of Pierre, including the State Capitol, sits on hills well above the projected flood zone.

The Oahe Dam normally releases about 25,000 cubic feet of water a second through its hydroelectric power plant at this time of year. Releases have been increasing steadily in recent days and were projected to go to 85,000 cubic feet a second Saturday through the power plant and emergency gates. Releases are projected to rise again June 4-6 to 100,000 cubic feet per second, and then to 110,000 by late June or early July.

Stasch said the heavy releases will last at least until the middle of July, but some water will likely move through the emergency gates until December.

No evacuation orders were in effect Friday, but city officials said people living in areas expected to flood should be ready to leave their homes if necessary.

No count has been made of how many homes could be affected by rising waters. But even before the corps increased its projected releases, officials in the two cities had expected 300 or more homes would be in danger of flooding.

Daugaard said he has activated a couple South Dakota National Guard units to help deal with flooding in the area. Mark Neveau of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the organization has a half-dozen people working to help get whatever services or supplies are needed.

State Emergency Management Director Kristi Turman said officials also are looking at what might happen to communities downstream from Pierre and Fort Pierre, so people there can be warned to protect themselves and their property.

The governor said he and his wife, Linda, planned to stay in Pierre through the Memorial Day weekend to help people deal with the flooding.

“We’ve got a three-day weekend coming. I know there are many, many South Dakotans who are abandoning their vacation plans to help their friends and neighbors,” Daugaard said.

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