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category: Sights, date: 2011-07-15, by Otto Bochman
Oahe Dam
Oahe Mission School and Chapel Historic SiteOahe Mission School and Chapel Historic Site

On a warm July 2011 day, the view from the top of Oahe Dam looks fairly typical. Lots of blue water and lots of blue sky. You can see a few fishermen and sun bathers along the shore near the visitor's center and the Oahe Mission School and Chapel Historic Site.

Oahe Dam Stilling BasinOahe Dam Stilling Basin

Driving across the dam and continuing down to the Stilling Basin road you begin to see that things are not quite as they normally are for this time of the year. You begin to see the recent affects of erosion. The banks of the river have been carved back and as you watch from the road it is likely that you will see a tree fall slowly into the river. Its roots having been exposed by the rushing water.

As you get closer to the six concrete lined tunnels of the stilling basin the sound begins to get louder. You can almost feel the power of the rushing water. The spray creates a cloud above the outlet tunnels. The force of the water from the tunnel closest to the west bank has been shut off due to erosion caused by prolonged flow. Fencing has been erected for the safety of the public.

Oahe Dam, July 2011

As you drive away from the dam and towards Pierre and Fort Pierre you can see houses and other buildings only partially visible because the water is so high. Buildings that are on higher ground are surrounded by sand bags. It's an odd sight that creates a somewhat eerie feeling.

The Bad River, which empties into the Missouri at Fort Pierre, has receded up stream. The water, however, is still very high at the point at which it meets the Missouri. Embankments have been built in an effort to hold the river back. Those embankments and the massive amount of sand bagging appear to have been at least partially successful.

Sandbags around buildings in Pierre South Dakota July 2011Sandbags around buildings in Pierre South Dakota July 2011

Some residents in Pierre report running as many as 5 sump pumps in their basements and still are unable to keep up with the flow of ground water. Once the water recedes, cleanup with be a long, tedious, and expensive process.

As the summer grinds on and rain continues in the forecast, one can only speculate when life below Oahe and the other dams on the Missouri will finally get back to normal.

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