Spring in Day County: Flooding, erosion, ice flows

Kelda J.L. Pharris

Day County Emergency Manager, Bryan Anderson, chuckles off and on as he talks by phone on April 16.

The chuckles have a “what next?” timbre, coming off as a mix of marvel and disgust aimed at Mother Nature. Day County has been plagued for years with flooding, road erosion, and ice flow damage. This year is no exception.

Anderson keeps a map of the county under plexiglass. He and others use erasable markers to show which roads are closed or restricted to one lane from flooding and erosion. Some new additions have been added in the past couple weeks, others have been marked for years. This evolving map lets Day County dispatch direct first responders to the quickest routes around closures when a call comes in.

The newest additions, added in the past two weeks:

County Road 6

  • or “Grenville Grade,” a gravel road that curves around Grenville and Waubay Lake is having erosion issues and one-fourth of it had water covering it this week.

County Road 12

  • , an oil road, now has one lane of traffic in a portion just northwest of Webster, because of road erosion.

State Highway 25

  • , 3 miles east of Roslyn, has 2-3 inches of water over it and has been limited to local traffic only.

“We’re doing a bit of rock on the side to stabilize (County Road 12) but with load limits we can’t haul a lot right now. That’s a slough along there. It’s only about 8-10 feet deep so warmed up faster. Then with the ice gone and wave action from strong winds,” the road began crumbling on the sides, Anderson said.

As Blue Dog Lake thaws and chunks of ice break up, the pieces have gotten picked up by recent strong winds, sending them crashing into shores and residential retaining structures. Anderson said he saw a cement wall that’d been pushed two feet from its original placement. So far no surrounding homes or buildings have reported any damage from the ice.

Fall and winter runoff, plus recent snowfall are greeting already heavily saturated ground. In many places the saturation level goes down four feet, said Anderson. Much of Day County is filled with sloughs and ponds, making it prairie pothole country. What the county is lacking is rivers to help divert the water.

“Blue Dog (Lake) is about as full as I’ve ever seen it,” said Anderson. “One of the problems of Day County is we have no natural rivers in the eastern two-thirds of the county. Max flood stage is 1,810 feet; that’s what FEMA has always told us. At that point it would flow down to the (Big) Sioux River Valley. The last (report) I’ve seen, Blue Dog was at 1,805.6; almost 4.5 feet that could go up. That would cover a lot of roads, towns.”

When Anderson was younger, Waubay Lake was marsh and scrub ground. Waubay Lake is the biggest natural lake in the county (although Bitter Lake is getting close). His family often hunted on it.

“Now that lake has spots well over 20-feet deep. It’s completely exploded in size since ‘97. My dad is 82 years old, and he’s never seen this in his lifetime,” said Anderson.

The two both wondered over Easter what Anderson’s grandfather would think of today’s conditions. The winter of 1996-97 had record snowfalls for the state with subsequent spring flooding.

“That’s the first time I ever remember a city being isolated from the world in this county,” said Anderson, referring to Grenville. Every access road to the town was under water that year. It seems that Day County hasn’t had any long-term relief since that record-setting winter and spring. Last year on the family farm, Anderson said there was only about one 10-day stretch when there wasn’t any rain.

“We never thought it would get to this level. The only way it leaves is evaporation in Day County. Without a hot summer and less rain happening — that’s the only way we can (dry out),” he said.

Anderson confirmed that the minimal amount of farming he’s seen this spring is people getting last season’s corn out of a few fields.

“With grain prices down, this is causing more expense — farmers will have to route around all these areas,” said Anderson.

Last year the state was approved for a presidential disaster declaration because of flooding. Anderson is prepping for a possible repeat by keeping track of the flooding’s financial impact.

“Right now we are in the rerouting people and collecting data phase,” he said. “We are collecting data for FEMA. I’m sure I’ll be having more meetings as spring goes on.”

Motorists splash through standing water on state Highway 25 east of Roslyn on Thursday. The road is passable, but the flooded area is controlled by traffic signals on each end of the curve. American News photos by John Davis
A section of Day County 12 northeast of Bristol is limited to one lane of traffic because water along the roadway has eroded and encroached the shoulder on both sides. American News photo by John Davis
American News photo by John Davis Motorists splash through standing water on state Highway 25 east of Roslyn on recently. The road is passable, but the flooded area is controlled by traffic signals on each end of the curve.
Water splashes from the wheel of a car going through standing water on state Highway 25 east of Roslyn on Thursday. The road is passable, but the flooded area is controlled by traffic signals on each end of the curve that is covered.
Chunks of ice are piled near the edge of the road on 133rd Street east of Grenville on Thursday. Small amounts of water were on the Day County roadway, but it remains passable. American News photos by John Davis
A sign on state Highway 25 north U.S. Highway 12 in Webster warns motorists of water and ice over the road east of Roslyn. The road was passable Thursday, but the flooded area is controlled by traffic signals. American News photo by John Davis