Taking stock of the 2011 flood

2012-01-14T22:30:00Z Taking stock of the 2011 floodBy DENNIS F. MEYER Mandan Bismarck Tribune
January 14, 2012 10:30 pm  • 

There are many rumors circulating in regard to the historic flood that we experienced in the summer of 2011. This letter is submitted to provide property owners and public officials with data to make informed judgments regarding future actions that are so important to preventing the reoccurrence of this event.

First: We accept the local flood stage of the river to be 16 feet.

Second: We accept that the current capacity of the river at flood stage (16 feet) is 85,000 cubic feet per second. This value is based on records obtained from the North Dakota State Water Commission.

These numbers enabled me to flood-route the actual flows in the Missouri River during the 2011 flood period. It showed that had releases on April 1 been increased to 85,000 cfs, and having had the Garrison reservoir drawn down to 1,931.37, there would not have been a flood for those who are protected to river stage 16 feet.

March 28 through

April 30, the average discharge for the Garrison reservoir was 14,755 cfs. I ask you, does this sound like sound management that is preparing for snowpack that is 116 percent of normal annual snowfall on April 1? This is with two months of the snow season left. This is when the releases should have been increased at Garrison to provide for flood stage. The snow depth increased to 149 percent of normal annual snowfall by May 1, with another 30 days of snow accumulation left.

Third: The pool elevation on April 1 was 1,840.2. Does this appear to be a pool management scenario that is preparing for the above-average snowpack? Does this sound like a competent engineering decision?

Fourth: On July 28, the inflow to the Garrison reservoir dropped to

78,000 cfs (7,000 cfs below flood stage at Bismarck-Mandan) and its inflow continued to decrease.

Fifth: Discharges at Garrison did not fall below 85,000 cfs until Aug. 24. This resulted in the extension of the flood event for Bismarck-Mandan for a period of 28 days. Does this sound like competent engineering management? Should we trust this management for the 2012 runoff period?

These are numbers that are based on what actually occurred during the 2011 flood event. What it shows me is that we may not need additional protection for people who are protected for flooding to river stage 16 feet. What it does show me is that competent engineering management is needed to manage the Garrison Dam for the purposes for which it was designed and constructed.

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(16) Comments

  1. Something Smells
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    Something Smells - January 16, 2012 8:14 pm
    One of the problems with the Corps of Engineers is their stubborn refusal to be flexible with the Master Manual. Any private corporation would be able to be flexible just as a matter of survival and of course, common sense.

    For the Corps to make any changes in their Master Manual would take how many months and how many meetings???? The government at work for the taxpayers, eh?
  2. Something Smells
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    Something Smells - January 16, 2012 8:03 pm
    Cape - Prove to me that it isn't true, Mr. Genius...

    Anyone who cares to spend a little time can find a number of articles on the Corps of Engineers and their incompetence.
  3. CapeFear
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    CapeFear - January 16, 2012 4:36 pm
    Something Smells said: "Marvin 51 - The Corps of Engineers is another government agency that is bloated, inept and dysfunctional. Why do you think there was flooding on the Mississippi River in 2011? Would it have anything to do with the channelization of the Mississippi?I remember reading an article in a major newspaper some years ago that examined the Corps of Engineers' incompetence. Now that we have the internet there is no excuse for you people who think the corps is a competent, smooth, well oiled government agency to just sit there and nod your head. Do some research on the internet!!!"



    Oh, ok, Smell, so now the "internet" is the authority on the truth? And here I always thought it was Fixed News.

    So if it says it on the internet, then it must be true?
  4. Something Smells
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    Something Smells - January 16, 2012 10:40 am
    Marvin 51 - The Corps of Engineers is another government agency that is bloated, inept and dysfunctional.

    Why do you think there was flooding on the Mississippi River in 2011? Would it have anything to do with the channelization of the Mississippi?

    I remember reading an article in a major newspaper some years ago that examined the Corps of Engineers' incompetence. Now that we have the internet there is no excuse for you people who think the corps is a competent, smooth, well oiled government agency to just sit there and nod your head. Do some research on the internet!!!
  5. highplainsdrifter
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    highplainsdrifter - January 16, 2012 8:47 am
    Marvin51 said: "They might flood a little?Clearly you didn't pay any attention to what happened south of Bismarck in the time frame. The Mississippi flooded,....Now for some reason, they claim they weren't paying attention to the Mississippi,."
    Stop with the lower Mississippi nonsense! Here is the deal.. in terms of thousands of cfs normal design capacity the Ohio is at 2250... the upper Mississippi at 150, the Missouri at 100.. and the lower Mississippi (above the old channel diversion 2,890. The spring Mississippi flood was due to massive Ohio river discharges. Even at peak flow from the Missouri .. the increase above normal was still less than 1/20 of the Ohio capacity... in other words the upper Missouri flood was just a drop in the bucket compared to lower Mississippi capacity!

  6. Mason
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    Mason - January 16, 2012 6:47 am
    Thus far the State Engineer, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the independent panel that reviewed the flood of 2011 have all concluded that the forces of nature overwhelmed the ability of the Corps ability to preclude major flooding. If one takes the time to read the recent panel report, it is clear that the safety of the dams themselves weighed heavily on the ACOE.

    The letter writer's perspective reminds me of the engineer report that came out in the 1980s at the instigation of Fox Island developers/residents in response to the official floodplain mapping in the Bismarck area. This mapping pointed out that much of the area south of Bismarck (ex. the area flooded last summer) was in the 10, 100 or 500 year floodplain and thus prone to flooding on a reoccurring basis (e.g. south Fox Island) or under rare but extreme conditions.

    The developer's response in the mid 1980s: the ACOE was wrong; the official floodplain map was wrong; the flood elevations on the floodplain map were off by 3 and a half feet ---- in conclusion flooding was not an issue, and development "full steam ahead".

    The ACOE and other federal entities have been saying flooding south of Bismarck is a concern for decades. Overtime the city of Bismarck responded by tighting up its planning and zoning. The lack of a rational local response and rampant willy-nilly development outside Bismarck is what has been surprising.

    A forthcoming report on the flood is still due to Congress. This report is likely to be somewhat redundant with the reports already done, however it will undoubtedly offer new insights and findings on last years events. I am still waiting to see the State Engineers Office to speak more openly and honestly about floodplain development. They have information that can be accessed on their web page, but while their information may be factual their talk veers towards the political.
  7. Marvin51
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    Marvin51 - January 16, 2012 2:14 am
    They might flood a little?

    Clearly you didn't pay any attention to what happened south of Bismarck in the time frame. The Mississippi flooded, seriously, they were blowing levees to flood large areas to save towns. Coincidining with that, they dropped discharges on the Missouri.

    Now for some reason, they claim they weren't paying attention to the Mississippi, but clearly, if you would have pushed that water through at that rate based on upper Missouri conditions you would have had heck to pay for intentionally flooding towns.

    The rain came and caught them, but they basically played it right according to the odds. Just seems their manual doesn't say don't flood the Mississippi or something so they lie and say they didn't look at it, but if you just realize someone did and threw the switch, it all makes sense.

    Otherwise it doesn't make sense.
  8. Law
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    Law - January 15, 2012 9:42 pm
    Krampus said: "The only people that think the corps failed are the people that think the corps only purpose is to prevent flooding on Fox Island. No one else uses the reservoir or the river."

    Exactly, the Corps could have pushed releases to 85000 in April, I don't suppose anyone south of ND would of cared. They might flood a little. The River is managed as a basin. Does anyone think the Corps would go to record releases in April? They've had that much snow pack in the past and it never flooded. Why would they flood the downstream states purposefully. Their historical data showed the dams could handle the snow pack. Increasing flows to 85000 in April would of had all the same people complaining. Here's some quick math. Releasing 85000 (which resulted in some flooding) for 30 days would only have accounted for about 1.8 mil cfs. That's 12 days of 150000. Now I don't think anyone would have advocated record releases in April and May on a hunch it might rain in MT. Look now we're dry and people still want to empty the dam. I'm glad the Corps was able to hold back what it did. Buy flood insurance next time.

  9. Krampus
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    Krampus - January 15, 2012 5:49 pm
    The only people that think the corps failed are the people that think the corps only purpose is to prevent flooding on Fox Island. No one else uses the reservoir or the river.
  10. Report Abuse
    - January 15, 2012 12:20 pm
    An excellent letter. What the writer is really demanding is accountability and competency. We have a right to expect both. The Corps and other agencies of OUR government are not living up to that standard.

    Of course, our elected officials should demand that they are. In that area, weak is an understatement. As to why, I don't have any answers but a lot of questions.

    The Corps has been out of control for decades. Nobody seems to have the guts or the skills to reign them in. I thought that maybe this horrific flood might be force the issue. Time will tell.

    As to those who still want to beat the dead horse of builing in a flood plain, I really have a hard time understanding why you feel compelled to blame the victims. The dams were built, albeit under many false pretenses, with the understanding that flood control was a major component of the benefits of all of these dams. As citizens, we have the right to be able to rely on the information given us and the competency of those who have the responsibility to carry out that mission.

    The abject failure of the Corp is obvious. The flood was preventable. Please don't let them off the hook by blaming those who live in the flood area. And yes, the Civic Center is there too.

    In a time of great divisions, not only on a national scale but clearly here at home, it might be a good idea to think all of this through. This is about more than assessing blame. It is a demand for good government. We all have a stake in that.
  11. highplainsdrifter
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    highplainsdrifter - January 15, 2012 12:10 pm
    I have serious reservations about the math used for these calulations. There is at least one obvious error. The writer says that the elevation should have been 'drawn down" to 1,931.37 .. yet then later remarks that the elevation on april 1 was 1,840.2. Clearly one has to be incorrect.. how many other errors are there?
  12. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 15, 2012 10:42 am
    Cape, what is the average elevation of Miami, Florida?

    Answer: Six feet.

    What is the average elevation of Manhattan Island, New York?

    Answer: It ranges from 3.3-265 feet.

    Yes, people do dumb things, like not demanding a Congressional Investigation of what happened in Bismarck-Mandan because of ineptitude by the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Senator Hoeven and Senator Conrad and Congressman Berg, what is on your “to do list” for the coming week?

    Oh by the way the elevation of Bismarck is 1,686 feet and of Mandan it is 1,647 feet.
  13. CapeFear
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    CapeFear - January 15, 2012 9:47 am
    The Corps of Engineers is mostly being used as a scapegoat here. People always have to have someone to blame for the conditions of their pathetic miserable lives that they never want to take responsibility for.


    If the Corps would have released water at the levels that would have been up to the "Monday morning quarterbackers" standards, then they would have been thrown under the bus for releasing too much water and causing problems for the recreation industry, boaters, and fishers.


    The Corps is in a no-win situation. It think they should turn it over to the Tea Party, since they know everything about everything.
  14. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 15, 2012 8:59 am
    January 15, 2012

    Yes Windig, they did follow the master manual just perfectly, yet that “Holy Manual” failed them and us.

    Don’t you think, being the brilliant Army Corps of Engineers, they should be leading the charge to get the manual changed; as the Army Corps of Engineers are citizens and American’s too and have a responsibility to themselves and us?

    Yet, there has not been a peep out of them and when our political leaders ask for some change they claim they can’t do it until the “Holy Manual” is changed.

    This letter is one citizens attempt to get the manual changed.

    They remind me of the soldiers in war, who have done something morally corrupt and their only excuse is; “We are just following orders sir.”

    Don’t you think government agencies should have the best interests of the people they serve in mind, especially when conditions change or rules and regulations don’t work, should an airline pilot simply say, “I flew the plane by the book but we still crashed, sorry?”

    Sadly, I have yet to hear an apology from the high and mighty Army Corps of Engineers, perhaps it is time for them to stop thinking like Gods and start thinking like real men and women.

    Oh by the way Windig, why did the citizens of Bismarck, decades ago, build the Civic Center on the flood plain?

    Because the put their trust in a military people that built a huge dam and then were given the military duty to operated it responsibly.

    That duty was and still is being violated to this very day.

  15. sehr windig
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    sehr windig - January 15, 2012 4:18 am
    Hobson'sChoice said: "Mr. Meyer, I believe you have hit the nail (the Army Corps of Engineers) squarely on its head.I completely agree with you; particularly the final sentence of your letter, “…what it does show me is that competent engineering management is needed to manage the Garrison Dam for the purposes for which it was designed and constructed.”Doing the same things this year, that were done last year and failed; then hoping for better results this year is just totally incompetent irresponsible engineering."

    The Corps did one thing really well...they followed the master manual. I don't get why so many people around here have a hard time understanding that....your congressman is the responsible party for this one. The Corps is responsible for following that manual and CAN'T really do anything else.

    And because this letter is beating a dead horse once again I'll beat one of my own - How did the flood plain earn that name, and why do people build there??
  16. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 15, 2012 2:07 am
    Mr. Meyer, I believe you have hit the nail (the Army Corps of Engineers) squarely on its head.

    I completely agree with you; particularly the final sentence of your letter, “…what it does show me is that competent engineering management is needed to manage the Garrison Dam for the purposes for which it was designed and constructed.”

    Doing the same things this year, that were done last year and failed; then hoping for better results this year is just totally incompetent irresponsible engineering.

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