Officials urge James River Valley residents to be flood-smart

Some stretches of the James River remain well above flood stage as winter nears, and state officials are urging residents in or near the flood plain to continue taking steps to protect themselves and their property.

Officials with the state Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Agriculture and Public Safety say the James River could remain above flood stage as the winter freeze arrives, setting the stage for more flooding next spring.

Information from DENR shows that in the past three years, the James River has dropped below flood stage by fall. This year, the James River continues to run as much as three and one-half feet above flood stage. That curtails drainage of tributaries throughout the river basin, leaving standing water in sloughs and low spots entering the winter freeze.

"Obviously, if the river is at or above flood stage going into winter, the likelihood of high water levels and flooding next spring is increased,'' said Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones. "Residents of the river valley should be aware of the river flows and take steps to protect themselves and their property through the winter and into next spring.''

Assessing future need for sandbags or other flood-protection measures and identifying where to obtain those materials would be an important preparatory step for those in or near the river valley. Other steps include checking on the sump pump if one is in use, considering a battery-operated backup pump or obtaining a portable electrical generator, keeping furniture and other valuable items safely out of flood areas and making sure valuable papers and records are stored in a waterproof area.

Residents should also pay close attention to changing weather conditions and water levels and be especially aware of road conditions when traveling through flooded areas. Some roads may remain flooded or saturated and impassable for an extended period of time, and residents are encouraged to prepare for lack of normal access and travel routes in some areas.

The James River has flooded several times in recent years and has been out of its banks for much of this year, much of the public infrastructure has been moved from the flood plain, and most residents have moved their property to higher ground. Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones says operators of farms and ranches in the area should be cautious about moving any machinery or livestock back into the flood plain.

"The best safety message is, if you are out of the flood plain, please don't put yourself back into a dangerous situation,'' Bones said. "High water conditions could be around for a long time. We know producers have suffered through a long stretch of flooding. It is really frustrating. We just encourage everyone to remain vigilant and make safe, smart choices.''

Higher than normal releases from the Jamestown and Pipestem dams in North Dakota have contributed to the high flows on the James River in 2011. While much of the fall was dry in South Dakota, parts of North Dakota had above-normal rainfall. That prevented the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from reducing releases from the two dams until recently. Because it can take a month or more for water in the James River to move through South Dakota, it's uncertain whether the recently reduced flows will significantly lower the chances of flooding next spring.

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