Perspective

Let’s see if we can relate the Missouri River to something in your refrigerator.

We are embarking on a dangerous course because we’re going to use mathematics. Anyone who was a “C” student in math recognizes the perils of doing so. But we plunge ahead, not trusting our own figuring.

The runoff from heavy snowfall far upstream and heavy rains over the northern part of the Missouri River basin have upstream reservoirs full–and then some. Those reservoirs are designed to contain that water so it can be released in an orderly manner into the Missouri River each spring to (1) maintain water levels for various purposes and (2) restrain water levels to limit flooding downstream.

That does not mean those reservoirs are designed to prevent floods. They’re designed to manage them. Mother nature cannot be controlled. At best she can be managed but every now and then event he best of us rebels against being managed. And Mother Nature is no different. This is one of those times.

The Corps of Engineers, which manages that series of upstream reservoirs, is bleeding off water from them. It’s like an experiment we did in science class in grade school where we filled up one glass of water until it overflowed into another glass of water until it filled up and overflowed into another one, and so on. The hope is that you’ll run out of water before the last glass overflows. This year all of the glasses are overflowing.

The reservoir closest to us is at Gavins Point on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. It is releasing water at 150,000 cubic feet per second. The Corps of Engineers talks in kcfs (“k” meaning “thousand). How much is that to you and me?

Next time you empty a gallon container of milk, fill it with water. Do it with the next gallon container. And the next. And the next until you have seven. Then fill the eighth container about halfway. That’s the equivalent of one cubic foot of water–7.48 gallons. One cubic foot. And Gavins Point is releasing 150,000 of those EVERY SECOND.

If you had 1,122,000 of those milk containers, you would have as much water as is coming out of the Gavins Point Dam every second. If you had 67,320,000 of those containers, you would have as many gallons of water as are pouring through the flood gates every minute. And it’s all going into the Missouri River channel.

But the Missouri River can hold a lot of water. At 6:30 this Tuesday morning, the Corps measured the amount of water flowing past its gauge at St. Joseph as being 165,000 cfs. That’s water from Gavins Point as well as runoff from recent rains in Nebraska, Iowa, and northwest Missouri. On the worst day of the great flood of 1993, the Missouri River was flowing past and into St. Joseph at 335,000 cfs. In the great flood of 1951, it was 397,000 cfs.

Governor Nixon was in St. Joseph yesterday saying the state is looking at what would happen if the Corps increases the flow from Gavins Point to 200,000 cfs. There would be more water in the channel by the time the river reaches St. Joseph. How much more depends on other factors including rainfall and levee breaches. The Corps, by the way, has not publicly said it has any intention of upping the release from Gavins Point.

Is there room in your entire house for enough milk jugs to represent one second’s worth of water?

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