Worry flow­ing down­river

As rain ebbs in Ok­la­homa and Texas, other states brace for flood­ing

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Matt Pearce matt.pearce@la­times.com

It fi­nally stopped rain­ing this week in Ok­la­homa and Texas, where a nearly non­stop se­ries of storms re­sulted in deadly flood­ing and made for the wettest month in both states’ recorded his­tory.

So what is hap­pen­ing to all that wa­ter?

Some of it, nat­u­rally, will evap­o­rate. Some has re­plen­ished reser­voirs in both states af­ter a pun­ish­ing five-year drought.

But like the end of a foot­ball game when ev­ery­one heads for the ex­its, the wa­ters are in­un­dat­ing rivers across four states, bring­ing new flood wor­ries for weeks ahead as the tor­rents bar­rel to­ward the Gulf of Mex­ico.

Wa­ter from Ok­la­homa will first head through rivers in Arkansas and Louisiana be­fore reach­ing the gulf. The wa­ter in eastern and south­ern Texas will gen­er­ally take more di­rect paths to the coast.

“It’s a gi­ant web,” Bran­nen Par­rish, spokesman for the Tulsa, Okla., dis­trict of the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers, said of the river sys­tem run­ning through the lower Plains. “Ul­ti­mately that wa­ter ends up in the Gulf of Mex­ico.”

The rains in Texas and Ok­la­homa brought both sor­row and bless­ing — floods that claimed hun­dreds of homes and killed at least 36 peo­ple, but also ended a dev­as­tat­ing drought.

A year ago, Texas’ reser­voirs were only at 67% ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to state wa­ter data. But in the last three months, ca­pac­ity has jumped to 83% af­ter reser­voirs trapped enough rain to cover nearly 23,000 square miles of land — al­most one-tenth of Texas — with about a foot of wa­ter. Some reser­voirs in west­ern Texas, not as hard hit by the storms, were still run­ning low this week.

But in Ok­la­homa, al­most ev­ery one of the state’s dozens of reser­voirs has ex­ceeded 100% nor­mal ca­pac­ity.

“The fact that we were in a drought helped mit­i­gate some of the flood­ing is­sues we would have seen had they not had that ex­tra space avail­able,” said James Paul, a hy­drol­o­gist for the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice’s Arkansas-Red Basin River Fore­cast Cen­ter.

How­ever, Paul added, “once they get to the point of be­ing as full as they can get, they have to start re­leas­ing that wa­ter.”

Many rivers in the re­gion have grown dramatically more pow­er­ful be­cause of the surg­ing runoff.

About this time of year, the Red River typ­i­cally passes be­tween 8,000 and 15,000 cu­bic feet of wa­ter per sec­ond where it forms part of the bor­der be­tween Texas and Ok­la­homa, Paul said.

Af­ter last month’s del­uge, the Red River has grown more than 10 times in vol­ume and was pump­ing nearly 235,000 cu­bic feet of wa­ter per sec­ond down­river to­ward Arkansas and Louisiana as of Mon­day, he said.

“All that wa­ter in Ok­la­homa and north­east Texas that drains into the Red River is mak­ing its way to us,” said Aaron Stevens, the ob­serv­ing pro­gram leader at the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice’s of­fice in Shreve­port, La., not­ing that the re­gion has al­ready been del­uged.

“All the crops that have been planted in the low­lands have flooded, and we’ve lost those crops, and we have a lot of cat­tle that feed in those low­land ar­eas,” he said.

The Red River is ex­pected to rise about 2 feet by Satur­day as it passes through Shreve­port in north­west Louisiana. In­mates in Caddo Parish, which in­cludes Shreve­port, have helped pre­pare sand­bags for the river’s in­evitable attack on the low-ly­ing ar­eas.

“We are not ex­pect­ing any flood­ing in­side res­i­dences, but there will be street flood­ing, if they aren’t experiencing that al­ready,” Sher­iff Steve Prator said in a state­ment Tues­day, warn­ing the parish’s res­i­dents to be pre­pared.

“We know our cit­i­zens are keep­ing a close eye on how the flood may af­fect their neigh­bor­hoods, and we want to make sure they are pre­pared for all pos­si­bil­i­ties,” he said.

The Red River even­tu­ally dumps into the Atchafalaya River in east-cen­tral Louisiana, which then emp­ties into the Gulf of Mex­ico.

The Arkansas River — which runs through Ok­la­homa and Arkansas un­til it flows into the Mis­sis­sippi River — has also picked up strength, ex­pand­ing from an av­er­age of about 50,000 cu­bic feet of wa­ter per sec­ond to roughly 300,000 to 350,000 cu­bic feet per sec­ond, ac­cord­ing to Paul.

More than 40 homes have al­ready been flooded down­river in Jef­fer­son County in cen­tral Arkansas, where part of the court­house and county fa­cil­i­ties were swept away by the Arkansas River dur­ing a 1908 flood.

Some res­i­dents are tak­ing boats to and from their homes and have put fur­ni­ture, clothes and pic­tures on their roofs to pre­vent them from get­ting wet, Maj. Lafayette Woods of the Jef­fer­son County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice said Tues­day.

Rains and river surges from Ok­la­homa have “not been good for us,” Woods said in an ear­lier in­ter­view, adding that the wa­ter had lapped over some sand­bags pro­tect­ing low-ly­ing homes.

In Texas, the Nue­ces River will re­main at ma­jor flood stage north­west of Cor­pus Christi through at least the rest of this week. The Trinity River, which is ex­pected to flood for weeks, neared a record high southeast of Dal­las on Tues­day be­fore be­gin­ning to decline.

Both rivers, which flow through Texas be­fore dump­ing into the gulf, are pro­jected to threaten some homes and river farm­land but have a gen­er­ally ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“For river sys­tems, th­ese sort of flood events are a nat­u­ral part of the land­scape that re­sets the sys­tems in many re­spects,” said Thomas Hardy, who stud­ies rivers and river ecosys­tems at the Mead­ows Cen­ter for Wa­ter and the En­vi­ron­ment at Texas State Uni­ver­sity.

The new fresh­wa­ter flows af­ter years of drought will also be wel­come for wildlife at bay and es­tu­ary sys­tems along the coast, Hardy said.

Mean­while, re­cov­ery con­tin­ues in Hays County, Texas, where at least eight bod­ies have been found and three peo­ple re­main miss­ing af­ter the Blanco River over­flowed. On Tues­day, county of­fi­cials said the last uniden­ti­fied body dis­cov­ered in the county be­longed to Ken­neth Reis­sig, 81, whose re­mains had been found May 28.

Of­fi­cials say down­river flood­ing would be even worse if it weren’t for flood­con­trol in­fra­struc­ture built sev­eral decades ago as part of a long-run­ning strug­gle be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the na­tion’s un­ruly rivers.

“It’d be a catas­tro­phe” if an ex­ten­sive sys­tem of lev­ees and reser­voirs weren’t keep­ing the wa­ters in check, said Greg Rai­mondo, a spokesman for the Vicks­burg, Miss., of­fice of the Army Corps of En­gi­neers. “There’s a lot of flat ground out there, you know?”

Larry W. Smith Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A RAFT pro­vides trans­porta­tion on a Dal­las street last week. A record-set­ting month of rain in Texas and Ok­la­homa claimed hun­dreds of homes and at least 36 lives, but it also ended the re­gion’s five-year drought.

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