If you aren’t a duck hunter, you might assume that floods are good for folks who invest all their spare cash in decoys and retriever food. With water covering tens of thousands of acres along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, ducks will have plenty of places to land, right?
Waterfowl hunters know better. They understand that waterfowl need more than water. They need food, for instance. To store up enough energy for the next leg of their journey, migrating waterfowl look for corn, rice or seeds from native plants, like smartweed and sedges. If ducks find those food sources standing in a few inches of water, they stay in Missouri and eat their fill. When they find only vast expanses of empty water, they keep going south.
Knowing that, you might assume the outlook is bleak for duck hunters. That isn’t true, either. Yes, lots of normally productive cropland is flooded right now. I was shocked to see how much agricultural land was underwater when I flew between Eagle Bluffs and Bob Brown conservation areas recently. Even though levees are holding in most areas, I saw several river bottoms covered with water from seepage. But lots of land in the Missouri River valley remains farmable, and hunters will be relieved to know that most of the 15 wetland areas owned by the Conservation Department are getting through this flood year just fine.
Grand Pass CA is a good example. This 5,000-acre area sits right on the Missouri River in Saline County. The farmland just upriver is a lake, but levees that protect Grand Pass and surrounding farmland have held. Crops are growing well on much of the area, as you can see in the accompanying photo.
Seepage did cause some crop losses at Grand Pass. The west refuge--pools 1 and 2--had total crop failure. Pools 5 West and portions of Pool 5 also had some yield reductions, but crops in pools 3, 4 and TIII are in good shape. Late-planted food plots of corn are in good to fair condition. Natural vegetation in pools 5, 6, 8 and 9 are in good to excellent condition. Most of Pool 7 is shifting to perennial vegetation, such as cattails and bulrush, so seed production from millet, smartweed, etc., is significantly reduced there.
The levees also have held at 4,400-acre Eagle Bluffs CA in southern Boone County. Seep water has reduced production somewhat in pools 3, 8, 11 and 12, but the crops look good otherwise. Parts of Eagle Bluffs that are managed for seed-producing natural vegetation are doing well, too.
Bob Brown CA wasn’t so lucky. The levee protecting this popular 3,300-acre wetland area in Holt County broke in mid-June. Water still covers the area and the surrounding landscape, making hunting prospects there very dim this year.
Most of MDC’s managed wetland areas are outside the Missouri and Mississippi river flood plains and have not been affected by high flows on the two big rivers. Detailed reports on conditions at state wetlands will be posted on MDC’s website later this month. Until then, hunters should know that the news is mostly good. Very few areas suffered serious flood damage.
An Amazing Year
If you already know more than you care to about this year’s flood, you can stop reading now. I’m kind of a river geek, so it fascinates me. Floods usually occur when a big storm or a series of storms dumps a slug of water in a particular area. Rivers rise, and then fall. The flood crest lasts only a few days or a couple of weeks at most.
This year’s flood is different. It began with record snowfall in the Rocky Mountains last winter. Then, freak storms dumped a ridiculous amount of rain on the Dakotas in May, filling the reservoirs on the upper Missouri River. Experts with the Corps of Engineers looked at those brim-full reservoirs and knew they had to get rid of a prodigious amount of water to make room for snowmelt. In May, the Corps began releasing water from Gavins Point, the dam farthest downstream on the Missouri River, at the rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).
That is an unimaginably large amount of water, more than a million gallons per second. At the time, Corps officials said they expected to continue this massive flow throughout the summer, and it has. On Aug. 16, the average flow from Gavins Point was still 150,000 cfs.
Of course, the flow from Gavins Point isn’t all the water we get in Missouri’s stretch of the river. We also receive flows from the Platte, Kansas, Grand, Chariton, Saline, Osage and Gasconade rivers, plus dozens of other tributaries. As a result, the river has been above flood stage most of the time since late May.
Except for a couple of very brief periods, the Missouri River’s flow at Hermann has been 200,000 cfs or more since May 21. Judging by the U.S. Geological Survey’s data, which you can reach from the link below, I would guess that it has averaged about 225,000 cfs.
(WARNING: I am about to do math, which has never been my best subject. Please feel free to check me.)
If you multiply 225,000 cfs times 60 seconds, times 60 minutes, times 24 hours, times 90 days, you get approximately 1.75 trillion cubic feet of water. That is roughly 40 million “acre-feet.” An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.
If you are having trouble picturing how much water that is, consider this: Missouri’s land area is a bit over 44 million acres. So, since May, enough water has slid down the Missouri past Hermann to cover all the land in Missouri with about 11 inches of water.
To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, that’s amazing. I don’t care who you are, that there is amazing.