Another Wet Spring

Meanwhile back in my hometown of Jamestown, ND, they’re getting ready for more flooding, as the two reservoirs north of town fill to records.

Now, Jamestown is built at the confluence of the James River – the world’s longest non-commercially-navigable river – and Pipestem Creek.  Both rivers drain a huge basin in central North Dakota (and South Dakota as well) into the Missouri River.  Given their huge watershed, both rivers are fairly sensitive to fluctuations in water supply; in the eighties, during a very dry period, the James barely flowed.  On other other hand, before the James was dammed up in the ’50s, a wet season could leave Jamestown half-submerged. (The Pipestem also flooded, in 1969, leading to another dam in the seventies).  So in theory, Jamestown should be flood-proof – unless it’s been a very wet winter and both reservoirs are nearly full.

Suffice to say it’s been a very wet winter:

Jamestown and Stutsman County should prepare for the same combined releases as they did during the 2009 floods, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which changed its forecast for the James River and Pipestem Creek Friday.

The corps’ had originally estimated releases of 1,800 cubic feet per second. The new forecast recommends building emergency levees to handle combined releases of 3,200 cfs from Jamestown and Pipestem reser-voirs — the same level the two dams released at the peaks of the 2009 flood.

1,800 to 3,200 cubic feet per second.  Bear in mind the usual combined release from both dams is about 30 cfs.

According to the corps, the 0.5 to 1.5 inches of precipitation received in the James River Basin this week changed the situation and now reservoir pool levels could exceed 1997 levels, according to the “most likely” forecasts. The upper range of forecasts indicate reservoir pool levels could reach the same levels as in 2009, said Col. Robert J. Ruch, Omaha district commander for the corps.

It’s going to be another flood-prone year throughout the upper Midwest.

Attention, Jamestown High School Class of ’81 People

This is a closed-circuit message for the readers of this site who graduated from Jamestown (ND) High School in 1981.  The rest of you can rejoin this blog with the next post.  Thanks.

’81 people – the artist formerly known as Ruth Newman is starting work on the 30 year reunion.

If you’re a classmate, there’s a Facebook group, and/or an email address if you’d prefer.  I won’t post ’em here, but send me an email at “feedbackinthedark” which is at Yahoo dot com, and I’ll get you the info.

I’m already looking forward to it!

A Note From Fargo

A high school classmate of mine who lives in the “exurbs” north of Fargo writes:

Just a note that if you’re interested in listening to local flood coverage in Fargo, below is a link.My daughter is out again sandbagging today.Many volunteers and homehowners are exhausted, many others still eager. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.Thanks – [redacted]

Wish I could get up there.  I’m banking energy and vacation time in case Saint Paul and Newport flood again.


All The Jamestown News That Fits

This one blows my mind; all you Jamestown natives who read the blog will get it.

On Tuesday, the city’s airport was closed due to flooding:

The airport is on the high ground.  The airport remains closed to fixed-wing planes today.

This, just in time for the blizzard, as the flooding in the lowlands of the James Valley (which I wrote about yesterday) kicks off.

And it is kicking off in earnest; apparently the “worst case” forecasts show both the Jametown and Pipestem dams rising to within a foot of their emergency spillways, even as the Army Corps of Engineers increases outflows from the dams to compensate for the recent rain and massive melt-off.  Over that level, and the dams’ll release directly into the rivers without any regulation, pushing the normally-sluggish (and already-swollen) James way over its normally-ample banks.  The Corps of Engineers is working on building temporary dikes, and  sandbagging is reportedly underway.

(Via It’s Good To Be In N.D. the only Jamestown-centered blog I can find)

The Spring Of ’66

A few weeks ago, I noted the 43rd anniversary of the greatest blizzard of my lifetime, the Great North Dakota Blizzard of ’66. 

Of course, all that snow had to go somewhere.

The Army Corps of Engineers had put up a dam on the James River – the longest un-navigable river in the world – in the fifties, which put a stop to the frequent floods that had plagued the city when that shallow, muddy river had gotten even the faintest surge of water.  But Pipestem Creek – which joins the James in Klaus Park, on the west side of Jamestown, under the Fort Seward bluffs, a place that was the city’s original reason to exist since its days as an Arikara camp since time immemorial – had no dam at the time.  And so the spring runoff pushed the Pipestem – and the James, south of the confluence – over their banks.

I was three at the time.  Dad spent a couple of nights sandbagging.  I remember worried conversations about the sandbag line protecting downtown (also our neighborhood, although our house was on higher ground) being more fragile than people would have liked.

And best of all?  I remember the National Guard putting its command post or supply dump or something across the street from our house, in the yard in front of Trinity Hospital.  Skids of sandbags, trucks full of sand, front-end loaders and, best of all, an amphibious DUKW “Duck” truck congregated there, with streams of guys coming and going at all hours. 

A few years later, the Corps finished a dam over the Pipestem.  And that was the last flood Jamestown saw.

Until now. The immense snowfall this year – more than the usually-dry state, more famous for wind than snow, has seen in a generation – is causing flooding even in Jamestown.

Of course, as a blizzard pounds the state, the flooding is everywhere.  An ice dam on the Missouri River, at its confluence with the Heart River, is  hbacking up water into Bismarck and Mandan.  The National Guard and, believe it or not, the Coast Guard tried to blow the jam open earlier today; we’ll wait to see what happens.  In the meantime, another huge ice jam north of the city threatens to let spill another deluge into Bismarck.

Of course, Fargo is frantically sandbagging against a crest that is  supposed to be higher than 1997’s epic flood; in Grand Forks, which was largely destroyed in ’97, the crest is expected to be competitive with the epic of 12 years ago.

All the while, a blizzard is thrashing the state.

There are times I miss the place.  I wish I could be there now.

Rumors of Winter’s Demise…

…are greatly exaggerated:

The North Dakota Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday afternoon that the westbound lane of Interstate 94 from Mandan to Dickinson will remain closed tonight through Wednesday morning until the road can be cleared. Blowing and drifting snow with heavy accumulation will continue to create hazardous driving conditions in the westbound lane throughout the afternoon and evening.

At this time, the eastbound lane of Interstate 94 from Dickinson to Mandan will remain open but will remain under a No Travel Advisory, unless conditions continue to deteriorate. Motorists should be alert to changing conditions.

I love the smell of freeway closures in February.

Smells like…

real winter!

Welcome Home, 817th Engineers

I wrote last year for Veteran’s Day about the history of the North Dakota National Guard from the Spanish-American War through Iraq.

There was a bit of current history I’d missed; Jamestown’s National Guard company (renamed again – it’s now the 817th Engineer Company (Sapper), specializing in minefield clearance) has done its second tour in Iraq (the first was almost four years ago, as Company B/141st Combat Engineers). 

And I’m happy to relate…:

Soldiers of the 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) are tentatively scheduled to return from their one-year tour of duty in Iraq to Ft. McCoy, Wis., from June 1 to 8.

Nobody died in action this time; on its first tour, the 141st lost four killed in action.

Anyway – welcome home, from a long-time expat!

It Was Forty Years Ago Today

My dad doesn’t remember this – but I do.

We were driving down Sixth Street Southeast in Jamestown, heading toward the tracks.

Dad was listening to the radio (tuned in to KEYJ, naturally) in our old Mercury.  It was bright and clear outside.

And the announcer led with a story about “Martin Luther King” being shot.  It’d be absurd to say I knew what was going on – but I remember being familiar with the name.  He’d been on the TV a time or two.
And it seemed pretty obvious it was an important story.   I obviously didn’t know why – I was still probably ten years away from meeting my first black person.  Jamestown North Dakota was pretty white, back then.

More people remember.

Five Ate For Owe Won

First things first. My dad, Bruce Berg, has a book coming out in the next week or so. I think it’s called “Heard It Now And Then”, and it’s an anthology of his best guest editorials from his 25 year archive of material for North Dakota Public Radio.

And I was surprised to learn that it’s actually his fifth book. Common Grounds, his first, is probably the best-known; his history of Jamestown’s old ball park touches heavily on the glory years of North Dakota amateur baseball, when the league was a stop on the Negro League circuit. In one fabled story, a team of North Dakota all-stars – half of them Negro League stars like Satchel Paige and company, the other half locals – swept the Major League All-Stars, who were passing through by train on their way to Japan for an exhibition series. It’s all in there. Anyway, he’s had others; Writer’s Block, which is a sort of combination geneology and collection of peoples’ reminiscences about the city’s history a collection of his Jamestown Sun columns, and a novel (whose name eludes me, and is self-published so it doesn’t show up on Google).

So congrats, Dad!

In news that may or may not be related, Dad’s asked me (as well as my brother and sister, among others) to write and send him things we remember about the city. I’m not sure if this is for another book project, or just for his own edification – either way is just fine.

But, appearances notwithstanding, I don’t have a lot of time for writing stuff; my “me” time is usually from 5:00 to 6:15AM every morning.

So in the interest of simplifying my life and doing the job, I’m going to add them into the blog, here. They’ll be posted under the category “Five Ate For Owe Won”. If you’re not into Mitch Berg’s self-indulgent reminiscences (or if you’re just a joyless harpy), just scroll on down.

I do, however, invite Jamestown people (you know who you are) to leave comments, elaborations, or what-have-you. (I will most likely be much more ruthless than normal about excising off-topic or dumb comments).

So there you go!