Flood mitigation work continues on Standing Rock

Associated Press

FORT YATES, N.D. (AP) — The wide, long reaches of Lake Oahe here are kinder than the more confined Missouri River channels.

That means flooding near Fort Yates will be of the lake variety. Water is rising and expected to go higher, and there are homes threatened. The problem could get even worse with high winds.

But the flood threat is nowhere near as ominous as what people are facing in Bismarck, an hour to the north, or in South Dakota communities downstream from Oahe.

Indeed, residents in Bismarck and the South Dakota cities of Pierre, Fort Pierre and Dakota Dunes are spending these days hoping that their newly constructed levee systems hold as the network of dams on the Missouri ramp up water releases in an effort to deal with record amounts of water that have rushed into the system from melting snow and heavy spring rains.

Things are less hectic in Fort Yates.

Massive Lake Oahe, with its total storage capacity of 23.5 million acre-feet and 2,200 miles of shoreline, has left the Fort Yates area in better shape than many other areas along the river and has helped to contain rising water, said Joel Ames, a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe liaison with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"When you're bringing this water in, it's dispersing over such a wide area," Ames said.

Several groups of men were fishing Tuesday near Mobridge, S.D. For them, the increased water in Lake Oahe was welcome. Steve Hopp of Alliance, Neb., started fishing there six years ago when the reservoir was much lower. The fishing has improved.

"We're happy to see all the water," Hopp said. "Now, it seems like the fishing is great."

Jim Arrants of Bridgeport, Neb., agreed. "It's good for the long run," he said. "It might not ever look like this again."

Still, that doesn't mean there is no danger.

The Corps of Engineers on Tuesday was strengthening a dike and building a rock wall to protect a key road on the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

Resident Tim Harper said an emergency berm was constructed about 100 feet from his house. He also had sandbags, and he's hopeful that he'll be protected.

"This is up quite a ways, and I think it's going to get higher," Harper said. "Everybody is really doing a good job. Everyone has really come together."

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe requested technical assistance from the corps to review potential threats from rising water on Oahe, Vice Chairman Mike Faith said. The tribe wanted to get ahead of any problems before the water got too high.

The corps highlighted areas that needed improvement, including strengthening a water pumping station being built in Wakpala, S.D.

One of the biggest jobs required building rock walls along a three-quarter-mile long road that connects the Fort Yates Township, which is on an island, with the rest of the reservation. The wall is expected to take 28 days to construct, Ames said. It will protect the road from erosion and wind-swept waves.

As the corps worked on the road and levees, sandbagging in other areas had been completed. Phyllis Young has opened a shelter in Fort Yates, and she said about 120 people were helping sandbag.

"We've got a lot of food donations and people from all over," Young said. "The main focus is feeding the sandbaggers."

The rising water presents other problems. Officials have advised residents not to swim in the river because the water is dotted with large trees and other debris, and they warned people to be careful while fishing or boating.

The rising water also is displacing wildlife.

"Watch out," Faith said, "because you're going to see snakes and other wildlife where you've never seen them before."