James River in SD rises to near flood level, expected to recede soon

MILLTOWN, S.D. -- Heavy April rains brought the James River in the southern part of South Dakota to near-flood levels, but at least one resident on the water's bank isn't worried.


MILLTOWN, S.D. -- Heavy April rains brought the James River in the southern part of South Dakota  to near-flood levels, but at least one resident on the water's bank isn't worried.

"I was never worried about moving out this year. It just wasn't going to be that high," said Darlene Schilling, 83, of Milltown.

Schilling's trailer house is nestled between the James River and Twelvemile Creek in Milltown, a town of about 13 people, almost 80 miles east of Sioux Falls.

The James River rose to 15.75 feet on Wednesday near Mitchell, with a discharge of 2,220 cubic feet per second, following 5.37 inches of rainfall throughout April.

Wednesday's gage height and discharge were the highest on record for May 4 since 2011, when the river rose to 22.67 feet, and discharge was as high as 15,100 cfs.


Last month's rain accumulation was 3.19 inches higher than normal for April. Since the start of 2016, 7.96 inches of rain have fallen in Mitchell, 4.16 inches higher than normal for the first four months of the year.

According to Joyce Williamson, data chief for the United States Geological Survey's South Dakota Water Science Center in Rapid City, measurements taken in Mitchell and Scotland were higher than normal, but are not expected to rise further.

"It looks like they have peaked," Williamson said. "It is really high flows right now, but it looks like they are starting to decline."

The flood stage for Mitchell is 17 feet, and average discharge is about 1,000 cfs. Near Scotland, where SDWSC has another measuring site, the flood stage is 13 feet with average flows of 500 to 600 cfs. On Wednesday, gage height near Scotland was 12.67 feet, and discharge was measured at 4,000 cfs, but Williamson believes the measurement is wrong, and flows are likely closer to 3,000 cfs.

"The forecast shows it's dropping dramatically, that it will be out of the flood stage by tomorrow," Williamson said.

Schilling expects fair weather for fishing and kickball tournaments this weekend at Island Park in Milltown, a campsite and recreation area located at the intersection of the James River and Twelvemile Creek.

The park once featured a dance hall and roller skating rink that were destroyed when a dam broke in 1985.

For now, the weekend's festivities are expected to take place above water.


Hutchinson County Emergency Manager Dave Hoffman traveled to Milltown on Wednesday and was in Olivet the day before. He saw high water levels, but like Schilling, he is not worried about flooding.

"Right now, they're high and dry," Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman, Hutchinson County has flooding trouble when heavy rains fall in North Dakota, where the James River starts. April's rains fell mostly south of Interstate 90, so the water that flowed into the river is already on its way out.

But if storms pass through up north, Hoffman said there could still be a problem.

Schilling estimated it would take another 6 to 8 inches of rainfall in South Dakota to cause flooding in Milltown, as low fields surrounding the town collect much of the spillover.

Schilling has been displaced by a flood five or six times since moving to Milltown in 1988 from Parkston, and a flood in 1997 destroyed her home completely.

But she continues to rebuild and move back to the same plot of land she calls home.

"There's no protection. You don't protect against water," Schilling said. "Why do people, if their home burns down, why do they rebuild? Because it's home."

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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