Governor Kristi Noem received a face-to-face briefing Saturday morning in Pierre about flooding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander who oversees the upper Missouri River.
After meeting with Colonel John Hudson from the Omaha district, the governor left the state emergency operations center to drive to the Pine Ridge area.
She had sent South Dakota National Guard members to deliver water there.
Noem had originally planned to receive a briefing from the corps Saturday with U.S. Senator John Thune in Sioux Falls.
But that changed when water Pine Ridge suddenly didn’t have water service.
“They lost a rural water system. We have about 8,000 people that need drinking water,“ Noem said.
The governor activated 13 members of the South Dakota Army National Guard to help distribute water to communities on the reservation after recent floodwaters washed out a rural waterline.
Soldiers from Watertown-based Company A, 139th Brigade Support Battalion, were arriving Saturday to provide drinkable water in Red Shirt, Pine Ridge, Porcupine, Evergreen and Wounded Knee.
They’re using vehicles equipped with water tank racks known as hippos that have the capability to each receive, store and distribute up to 2,000 gallons of drinkable water.
The National Guard members were providing water to the public from a central location in each community until the waterline is restored, according to a news release.
It advised residents should bring plastic bottles, containers or receptacles to receive the water.
One of the things the governor got from her briefing with the colonel was an explanation why the corps didn’t provide her more warning about a major flooding event last week.
A dam blew out on the Niobrara River in Nebraska that affected southeastern South Dakota.
“I didn’t want to have those kind of surprises in the future,“ Noem said.
A massive ice jam on the Niobrara blasted through the Spencer dam, sending 200,000 cubic feet per second downstream into the Missouri River.
That led the corps for about six hours on March 14 to release 100,000 cubic feet per second from Gavins Point dam near Yankton, South Dakota.
The governor and the colonel told KELOLAND News after the meeting that the loss of the dam also took out the gages that monitor the Niobrara’s level.
“It was an enormous event, huge flows,“ the colonel said.
Hudson said he would be flying over the upper Big Sioux River from the Watertown area Saturday after he finished meetings in Pierre.
U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson arrived at the emergency operations center to sit down with the colonel later Saturday morning.
The governor said she wanted to be assured the corps is keeping an eye on the deep snow pack that is still melting in the James River and Big Sioux River watersheds.
“The James River is going to be flooded for a long period of time,“ Noem said.
She described the James as “a flat river. It’s slow moving, traditionally, but that also means it spreads out quite a bit when we get this kind of water event.“
The colonel said he’s keeping track of those conditions, as well as runoff from tributaries that feed into the Missouri River downstream from Gavins Point dam.
He said there is extreme flooding south of Omaha where the Platte River surged into the Missouri River and the levee system has been significantly compromised.
The Missouri River’s three major storage reservoirs — Oahe north of Pierre, Sakakawea in North Dakota and Fort Peck in Montana — have room to hold back additional water, he said.
There is flooding in the Mississippi River valley as well, the colonel said. The Missouri and the Mississippi join near St. Louis, Missouri.
The situation in South Dakota remains a concern to the governor, but she said there has been time to react to the blizzard and rains 10 days ago and plan for dealing with the snow melt to come.
Said Noem, “This is not going to be over in a few days. We’re going to see water levels rise in Sioux Falls and the southeast part of the state over the next few days, so people need to stay prepared.“
She said it was encouraging to see everyday people helping each other.