The practice of building houses and outbuildings on high ground, adopted so effectively by Vermillion's pioneers approximately 150 years ago, is still proving to be the best c
ourse of action today.
Especially as Clay County awaits the formal arrival of spring, and watches as over 20 inches of snow that has fallen this winter is melting, swelling rivers and creeks and covering lowlands with water.
This annual ritual of rising temperatures transforming snow into runoff is being taken as simply a sign that spring will soon be here. There is no panic in the countryside, no buildings being threatened by high water, no sandbags being stacked to try to thwart rising water.
"At this point, we just have a few roads that are under (water) and that's it," said Layne Stewart, Clay County's emergency management director.
As of Wednesday, a string of rural roads and highways have been closed because of rising water. The portions of these roads that have been blocked – specifically, 309th, 308, 307 and 306th streets – all cross some of the lowest and wettest parts of Clay County.
"The most notable area is probably Highway 19 and 306th Street, Highway 19 between 299th and 301st Streets, and the intersection of Highway 19 and Highway 46," he said.
According to information released by the South Dakota Department of Transportation Tuesday afternoon, the following roads in the southeastern part of the state are being affected by flooding:
• Highway 46, east and west of Highway19A, south of Centerville between mile markers 355 and 357 – closed March 15.
• Highway 46, northeast of Lesterville between mile markers 324 and 325 – closed March 16.
• Highway 19A south of Centerville between mile markers 25 and 27 – closed March 15.
• Highway 19 north of Vermillion is closed from Highway 46 to mile marker 18 – closed March 14.
• Highway 18 west of Davis, mile marker 424.4 at the Vermillion River – closed March 14.
• Highway 48 at the Iowa line (on the Iowa side) has now gone under water due to flooding on the Big Sioux River. Highway 48 is closed in South Dakota from mile marker 383 to the Iowa Line — closed March 16.
Motorists are urged to use caution when approaching sections where water is flowing adjacent to or over the road. Do not attempt to drive through water covering the road as it may be washed out underneath.
"The biggest problem we have right now is drainage from surface water," Stewart said. "Some of it is from the Vermillion River, and much of it is from creeks where snow is still in the drainage ditches and it's not letting the water get away. The Vermillion River, has been at a steady depth since Saturday, and at the Vermillion observation point is not even expected to reach flood stage before Monday."
One of the gauge that measure's the river's level is located about three miles north of Vermillion. The flood stage for the river at that point is 21 feet. "Right now, it is at 16 feet," Stewart said Tuesday afternoon. "It's gone up in the last week, but it's maintained steadiness since Saturday."
The Vermillion River level is also beginning to recede in the Wakonda area.
"It did reach major flood stage a couple days ago," he said. "According to the last recording of the river level, it's back down to the moderate level."
The warming temperatures of this week in the region won't significantly add to the rather traditional flooding that's currently going on. Rainfall, however, would likely cause water levels to more quickly rise.
"The river is going to be high for awhile," Stewart said. "It's just a natural thing that happens every year."
Weather forecasters were predicting warmer temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday, and the return of cooler temperatures to the region by the weekend.
The heavy snowfall experienced in Clay County in the winter of 2009-10 doesn't necessarily mean the flooding that's bound to continue for several weeks will be extreme.
"It's just one of those things," Stewart said. "The spots that are under water right now tend to go under every year. We don't really have any houses that have been built in the flood plains, even two years ago, when we got our presidential declaration for flooding, it's tends to be roads and culverts that take the beating. We aren't going to have flood water running through Main Street Vermillion.
"And with Wakonda, the river is seven miles east, so it tends to be farmground that receives the most concern," he said.