White River History Series Part 2: Deluge in 2008

Two One-hundred Year Floods in Two Months Forever Changed the Landscape of the Basin

Those who depend on the White River for both recreation and to make a living are all too familiar with the huge role Mother Nature plays with respect to how the fishing will be from year to year. Normally, things run in ‘cycles’ where we might see three years of relatively dry conditions followed by 6 years of never-ending rain. There is no way to predict these meteorological cycles, and really, we often do not know exactly what type of cycle we just experienced in until it officially ends and data can be analyzed.
Cycles are deliberate in their action, but every once in awhile, the White River Basin will experience drastic and catastrophic weather events that can quickly change the landscape of the river basin permanently. The Ozarks is in an area that is prone to serious rain – ten-inches in a 24-hour period is quite common, and when we start seeing amounts double that, the Corp of Engineers gets worried. These meticulously designed “flood capture zones” (i.e. the dams and reservoirs) all have a very specific capacity. When water levels near this “breaking” point, the Corp is liable to do whatever is necessary to prevent a dam breach – especially at Table Rock Dam. With its long earthen section and dense downstream population, Table Rock is a dam that will collapse if lake water is able to topple the earthen section, effectively wiping out billions of dollars in property. The loss of life would be staggering, as well. To save face for this miscalculation in how much “free board” (excess storage) was needed to prevent a disaster during a “maximum probable flood”, the Corp of Engineers added five humongous auxiliary spillway gates that will most likely never be used in our lifetime – but the people of Branson and below can sleep just a little easier knowing that extra protection is there. This just shows how constantly-changing strategies and innovative projects must always be devised in order to try and control something as uncontrollable as water.
Because swift and devastating weather events are extremely rare, there are very few accounts available of what happens when the entire system reaches the brink. There are stories of the water covering the Highway Five Bridge in Norfork in ’81, and there were several big floods in the early nineties, but none of these events seems severe enough to etch their way into local cultural history. 2002 was the high-water year that broke a long drought, and late May rains in 2004 brought Bull Shoals up 25-feet in less than a week. Still, these storms were easily handled by the Corp, and up to this point, spillway discharges of any significance had only been utilized sparingly at Beaver and Table Rock Dams. Read more…


~ by troutdoctor101 on May 19, 2010.

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