Ponderosa vs. Mighty Mo

Larry Brady observes the havoc that a high, fast-flowing Missouri River can wreak. This stretch of bank near the Ponderosa housing development, seemingly stable with a thick growth of trees, was stripped away by the churning water in 30 minutes time. Homeowners took action to stabilize the bank near their properties so they wouldnt also succumb to the river. (Photo by David Lias)

There is a gargoyle on Larry Bradys property.

Its not perched on a flying buttress of some grand cathedral-like building.

Its a simple statue, in the middle of the back yard behind Bradys home in the Ponderosa housing development along the Missouri River in southeast Clay County.

The statue faces the river, snarling as if to try to warn the rising water to stay away.

Brady laughs when thats pointed out. He knows he and other homeowners along the river need all of the help they can get.

Brady remembers a time when the water has been as high as it now 1997 comes to mind. The high levels of the water that year prompted him to move his house 40 feet farther inland.

He cant recall an instance, in the nearly 20 years hes lived by the Missouri, when its been so vicious.

Bradys and several of his neighbors parcels of property line a stretch of the river where the channel narrows. Further upriver, the water appears calm and placid. By the time it flows through the bottleneck near Bradys home, its a completely different creature boiling, churning, racing by at an estimated 13 miles per hour swift for the normally calm Missouri and able to easily chew up and spit out the river bank if given a chance.

From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde

The river changed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde shortly after the U.S. Corps of Engineers began increasing the flows through mainstem dams on the Missouri River in South and North Dakota and Montana three weeks ago.

The Corps stated in late May that rapidly changing weather conditions in Montana, northern Wyoming and the western Dakotas prompted the release of an unprecedented amount of water from the dams. Saturday, as Brady watched the river churn past his property, water was being released from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton at the rate of 150,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

He suspected more water would eventually be headed toward Clay County after the Corps announced late last week that releases from the Oahe Dam would increase to 160,000 cfs by last Sunday.

Turns out Bradys hunch was correct. After a good portion of the state was hit with torrential rainfall Monday night, the Corps announced late Tuesday that flows from Gavins Point would increase to 160,000 cfs by Thursday, June 23 as a result of the continued wet weather throughout the Missouri River Basin.

The impact of an additional 10,000 cfs to the current 150,000 cfs will result in an increase in river stages from 0.7 to 1 foot at Sioux City, IA, and 0.3 to 0.4 of a foot from Omaha to Rulo, Neb. At St. Joseph, Mo., the river stage rise will be roughly 0.6 foot, and at Kansas City, the rise will be roughly 0.7 foot. Actual stages will depend on tributary inflows.

Since the end of May, we have been slowly ramping up releases from our reservoirs to buy time for communities and local and state governments to be able to prepare for high water, Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the Northwestern Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday. We thought we would be able to hold at 150,000 cfs for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, recent rains have reduced our flexibility, and we must evacuate these floodwaters to manage the remaining flood control storage in the reservoir system. As weve stated all along, heavy rain storms could result in major revisions

A call to action

Brady and fellow Ponderosa development homeowners gained a bit of security by taking action when it was announced that higher flows would be headed their way.

The homeowners pooled their resources and hired the services of a barge with a backhoe. The barge operator placed more than 10,000 tons of Corps-approved B-rock along the banks, protecting them from raging current.

The Ponderosa, which was developed beginning in the early 1970s, includes 40 lots that stretch along 3,600 feet of the river. About 20 people, including Brady, live at the development full-time. The remainder have houses or cabins that serve, in normal times, as an enjoyable change-of-pace along the beautiful river during the summer or on weekends.

There are signs that people currently living at Ponderosa are carrying on day-to-day lives as normally as possible. Saturday, a woman was out weeding her flowerbed. A lawnmower could be heard at work on one lot. Some yards feature outdoor furniture, or fire pits the rising water has not kept people from enjoying Ponderosas unique climate.

But people are worried. They hope the money theyve expended on the rocks will keep the water at bay. They also hope that the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be reasonable.

Brady said homeowners knew they couldnt simply sit and wait to see what would happen after the Corps announced late May that flows would be increasing.

This whole development would be gone by now. It (the river) would have taken off this point, he said, pointing to a portion of ground that juts further toward the river channel, and it would have taken off another point near the beginning of the development, toward the west.

The river would have just worked itself right down the line, Brady said. There would be no way it could have been stopped.

Ponderosas homeowners association had first heard that river flows might increase in early May. We got lucky then. We just happened to catch the barge guy. He was on his way down river; he had been working for the Corps down in Yankton, and we caught him on the way down, he said.

At that time, some homeowners decided to stabilize their property. Others didnt. While the barge operator was in the midst of his work, however, the Corps announced that releases from Gavins Point would eventually reach 110,000 cfs, and possibly go higher.

Then we all got together as a group, and we concluded that there was no way we could individually do this because if one (lot) fails, theyre all going to fail, Brady said. We decided to put in a certain amount of money and get the work done.

The bank stabilization work was complete by June 14. It really came together really quickly. Everybody was on board with it. Everyone will be assessed. Youve got to protect yourself and youve got to protect your neighbor.

Demonstration project

The work by the Ponderosa property owners simply adds to stabilization efforts done earlier by the Corps in what Brady said was termed a demonstration project.

There are different structures built into the banks down here as a test, to try to see what works better, he said. At the far end, they have what they call hard points which is rock piled out into the water. A little farther down, they have revetments, which is actually rock piled back into the back. And the other end, what they mostly did was rip rap.

In fact, according to a 1978 mandate, Brady said, the Corps is required to stabilize the banks. That provision is included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act approved by Congress that year. Bank stabilization was deemed a necessary requirement after the 59-mile stretch of the Missouri River from Gavins Point to Ponca, NE was deemed a national recreational river.

Since 2001, that portion of the river where the Ponderosa is located has been controlled by the National Parks Service, he said. That means the rock added to the shoreline this month may be in violation of park service rules.

Brady hopes officials will be reasonable when it comes time to review the steps taken by homeowners. The Ponderosa homeowners acquired no permits before the stabilization work was begun a couple weeks ago.

Gov. Daugaard said Do what you have to do to protect your property, said Larrys brother, Terry Brady, who also owns a home at Ponderosa. I think the Corps and the National Parks Service has been at odds for years. And, who knows? They may make us take it (the rock) out.

Brady admits to worrying about his property before the bank was stabilized. He had good reason too unstable banks on the east end of the development, filled with a thick growth of trees, were simply eaten up by the river in the course of 30 minutes.

He feels better about the prospects for his property, and for his neighbors homes now that further stabilization of the bank is complete.

There are two things to look at this. If we get through this, then our confidence level is going to be sky high. It will mean we got through this while places like Dakota Dunes didnt. And wed certainly feel a lot safer living down there knowing we had gotten through this, Brady said. But if it happens a second time, say next year, then the confidence level may take a dive.

If we get through this, the Ponderosa will be one of the most wonderful places in all of South Dakota to live, because it will be safe, he said.

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