Flood watch turns to warning for Des Moines, Rock rivers

WORTHINGTON -- The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., issued flood warnings for the Des Moines River at Jackson, and the Rock River at Rock Rapids, Iowa, effective today until further notice.

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Concrete barriers line the west bank of the Des Moines River behind Jackson Cycle in Jackson.

WORTHINGTON -- The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., issued flood warnings for the Des Moines River at Jackson, and the Rock River at Rock Rapids, Iowa, effective today until further notice.

On Wednesday morning, the Des Moines River was measured at 8.3 feet -- nearly 4 feet below the 12-foot flood stage, according to the NWS. It is forecast to rise above flood stage by 8 p.m. today and crest near 14.4 feet by Sunday. It is predicted to be at moderate stage flood in Jackson.

"At stages near 14 feet, flooding begins to affect homes and businesses along the non-leveed portions of the river in Jackson," the notice stated.

Jeff Johnson, Jackson County Emergency Management Director, had planned to meet Wednesday afternoon with the city's emergency manager and city public works director for a preliminary discussion on flooding potential.

"The dike really eliminated a lot of the severe flooding that takes place. Right now, we're feeling kind of comfortable," Johnson said.


Flood mitigation projects were completed along the Des Moines River in Jackson County in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, and he said flood stages were never re-established for the river.

While the flood stage is considered to be 14 feet, he said they really didn't have any issues until the river rose to the 16-foot mark following a major rain event last fall.

Johnson said several of the things they installed during that flood were left in place, including some cement barricades.

"It will be a matter of just resetting that out, and then a little more sandbagging if -- if the need should arise," he said.

Right now, all eyes seem to be on the skies. A chance of rain is in the forecast nearly every day between now and Tuesday, including a possible thunderstorm for the latter part of the weekend.

Tom Kresko, area hydrologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said a thunderstorm or an all-day rain could do "a lot of damage," and that is what he is most worried about.

With rain chances of only 30 percent, 40 percent and 50 percent, however, he remains optimistic and said snow, so far, is moving toward a reasonable melt.

"Any rainfall on this snow-pack will not be beneficial," he said. "If we get a half-inch to an inch of rain, that could be a significant problem because it accelerates snow and ice melt. We are doing OK, but it's a little early in the process."


Kresko said he is encouraged by how much of the snowmelt is soaking into the ground, which decreases the amount of runoff going into ditch systems, creeks and rivers.

"We are still quite concerned because there is a lot of water on the landscape," he added. "We're concerned about how much capacity there is left in the ground."

Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District administrator Dan Livdahl said he will be monitoring structures in and around Worthington to make sure ice dams aren't forming and leading to flooding issues.

"With the snow melt that has occurred so far, the streams are open and things are running fine," he said. "We don't anticipate any problems with flooding unless we get torrential rains."

Livdahl said the watershed district is "in better shape" this year, compared to last year at this time, because the streams are open and water is going into the storm system. He said the city's storm system is handling the snowmelt without problems, and in rural areas, most of the snowmelt appears to be soaking into the ground. That's good for both the farmers and for Worthington, because it recharges the city's water supply, he added.

If people living in town notice a build-up of water near a storm sewer catch basin, Livdahl said they should report it to the city and street workers will assess the situation.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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