OMAHA — The amount of water flowing down the lower Missouri River this year is approaching the record set during the historic 2011 flood, and another round of flooding is expected this week after unusually heavy rains upstream, federal officials said.
Heavy rains dumped more than four times what is normal in parts of Montana, North and South Dakota and Nebraska last week — triggering flood warnings and forcing the forecast for how much water will flow down the Missouri River to jump by 4 million acre feet to 58.8 million acre feet.
That will be second only to 2011’s 61 million acre feet, and it means the river has stayed high all year long. Previously, the second highest runoff year was 1997 when 49 million acre feet of water flowed down the river and caused major flooding.
“2019 continues to be a very wet year throughout the basin,” said John Remus with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that operates the dams along the Missouri River.
This week’s third round of flooding along the Missouri River will likely be less severe than the first two but still significant, said National Weather Service hydrologist Dave Pearson. When the river crests near Omaha on Friday and Saturday, parts of Interstates 29 and 680 could again be under water.
At Omaha, this week’s crest is projected to be 30.5 feet. In March the river hit 34 feet, and it registered 32 feet in the June flooding.
The Corps of Engineers doesn’t expect major problems or threats to cities with this week’s latest flooding — provided all the temporary repairs that have been made to levees since the spring hold up. But communities along the river are bracing for more problems in an exceptionally wet year.
Residents of Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, have been encouraged to evacuate their homes as a precaution because the river is already threatening that city. The river will peak there on Tuesday.
“When people call me and ask me what to do, I tell them, ‘Hey I relocated my family,’” Dakota Dunes Community Improvement District Manager Jeff Dooley told the Sioux City Journal. “If you wait until you know for sure, it’s too late.”
Downstream, residents of Hamburg, Iowa, will be keeping a close eye on the repaired levees around their town that was inundated in the spring to be sure the patches will hold up. Completely repairing the levees damaged in the spring is likely to take several years and cost more than $1 billion.
“Anybody I talk to I tell them to be prepared,” said Mike Crecelius, the emergency manager in the southwest Iowa county that’s home to Hamburg. “There’s been no relief at all this year.”
In March, massive flooding caused more than $3 billion in damage in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. In June, flooding returned and inundated many of the same places because most damaged levees remained broken.
The river will remain high throughout the fall because the Corps of Engineers plans to continue releasing large amounts of water into the river to clear out space in the reservoirs ahead of winter.
The amount of water flowing into the lower Missouri was temporarily cut to 60,000 cubic feet per second this weekend, but it will increase to 80,000 cubic feet per second later this week.