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Entries in Flooding (6)


When and Why Corps Manages Water Levels on Bass Fisheries

If not for impoundments built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, waters for bass fishing would be but a fraction of what they are today. By extension, tournament fishing, tackle innovation, and all the rest associated with the sport would not have evolved as they have.

As bass anglers, we owe much to the Corps, and therein lies a seeming contradiction that drives many of us to distraction:

These reservoirs were not created for bass fishing, nor are they managed for bass fishing. But because they are so critically important for the existence of the sport, many of us simply cannot accept that reality.  We can’t rid ourselves of the mistaken idea that, when the Corps acts, it is doing so solely to impact the fishing in one way or another.

For example, when the Corps lowers the water during or just after the spawn, many of us are certain that the move was done either to intentionally damage the fishery and/or to remind anglers who is in charge.

The truth is that recreation might be an authorized use on a Corps impoundment, but water storage typically is not allocated for recreation. And that’s a crucial difference.

Additionally, a single Corps impoundment is not an independent entity unto itself, especially when it comes to flood control. Reservoirs on a river system all are interrelated in their management.

Consider Table Rock Lake on the White River chain, where more than 13 inches of rain fell within 72 hours in late April of 2011, contributing to an historic 21-foot rise.

Beaver Lake is upstream, while Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry are downstream. Between Bull Shoals and Table Rock, is Lake Taneycomo, a riverine impoundment not managed by the Corps, but which must be considered in management decisions.

“It’s a complicated system,” said Greg Oller, Corps manager for Table Rock, who added that a White River water control plan helps determine when to release and how much, based on storage capacity of the impoundments.

Adding to that complication is the fact that the White is a tributary of the Mississippi, as is the Arkansas. When heavy rains and floods occur, flow down those two waterways must be considered as well in determining releases. Gauging stations help track what’s going on.

“From Beaver to Newport (on lower White River) is a lot of uncontrolled area, including the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek,” Oller said. “Those elevations can bounce up based on water inflow from rain.”

And then there’s the heavy rain that poured into Beaver, just as it did to Table Rock. That came barreling down the White River and into Table Rock at 300,000 cubic feet per second. High, muddy water also pushed in from the Kings and James rivers, as the lake rose perilously close to the top of the dam.

By contrast, construction of these impoundments on the White were based on flooding in 1927 and 1945, when peak discharge was 200,000 cubic feet per second.

“A lot of people were upset with the flooding downstream,” said the Corps manager who didn’t sleep much during this critical period. “But Table Rock prevented a tremendous amount of damage.”

Oller is a fisherman himself and recognizes that these high waters often are good for fisheries, even as they are devastating for homes, towns, and farms in the floodplain. Flooded shorelines provide abundant habitat for fry to feed and avoid predation. “The flood events that we had in 2008 and again in 2011 should make these fisheries hot spots for years to years to come,” he said.

He added that the Corps “tries to be sensitive” to fisheries-related issues, but has limited options.

“We can’t manipulate the water level based on the spawn,” he said. “When water is drawn down during that time, it is based on an authorized allocation of water.”

As an example, water pulled for hydropower during a dry spring could cause a low-water situation that damages the spawn.

For fisheries particularly, low water can be more devastating than floods, Oller added. “You get locked into a drought and that can last for months and even years,” he said.

Bottom line, though, is that water is cyclic. There will be droughts. There will be floods. And in managing our impoundments during these times, Corps employees must utilize a complicated system based on authorized uses and allocations --- not what bass fishermen want to create optimal fishing conditions.


Life Returns

Newly flooded shorelines are bursting with life these days in central Florida's Clermont Chain of Lakes, as water levels are their highest in eight years. As the water rises, it floods grass and shrubs, providing habitat for insects and other invertebrates. Minnows and other forage species move in to feed on them. And they are followed by predatory fish and birds.

The great blue heron (top) gobbled up minnows yesterday evening, while the wood stork sifted through the grass and muck early this morning.

If the water stays up long enough, bass and other species should have spectacular spawns in these resurrected shallows during late winter and spring. That could translate into much better fishing in a year or two--- if the water remains high enough for anglers to access this chain of lakes.

Sadly, that probably won't be the case. Most likely because of so many withdrawals and diversions --- some legal and some not --- the Clermont no longer sustains historically "normal" water levels. 


High Waters Tough for Fishing, Great for Photography

Nature is full of beauty. You must slow down and pay attention, though, if you want to see the little gems like this damselfly that I spotted this morning in the flooded grass of Florida's Crescent Lake.

Waters are way up in many central Florida lakes right now, as well as on the St. Johns River, meaning fishing is, at best, difficult. When that's the case, I  often put down my rod and pick up my camera. Below is a shot of a family of sandhill cranes that I also saw this morning.

I'm still hopeful, however, for good fishing at Lake Okeechobee next week with topwater legend Sam Griffin.


Flooding Spreads Troublesome Plant, as Well as Carp

Last year’s high waters not only helped Asian carp spread into new waters. It helped disperse an aggressive plant as well.

While invasive fish followed the overflowing Missouri and Mississippi rivers from Louisiana to South Dakota, Japanese knotweed expanded in Vermont, courtesy of flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene and dredging afterward.

Here’s the bad news from the Washington Post, along with what to do about it:

 In Vermont, floodwaters and repair work broke off portions of stems and woody rhizomes of the aggressive Japanese knotweed. The perennial, imported from Asia as an ornamental, was already a problem in Vermont and a dozen other states in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest.

It spreads quickly on riverbanks, floodplains and roadsides, choking out native plants, degrading habitats of fish, birds and insects and weakening stream banks

The plant, which resembles bamboo when mature, spreads quickly in disturbed soils. Just this week, new young plants were inching out of the silt on the banks of the Camp Brook, a tributary of the White River, where the land looks like a moonscape since floodwaters washed away trees, rocks and other native plants. Once these invasive plants take over, their root structure and a lack of groundcover and native plants and trees with deeper roots, weakens the stream banks, causing erosion, and flood damage.

“We’d like to get out the message that if there’s ever a time to hand pull or mechanically control so we can avoid the use of herbicides, this is the one year where that’s possible,” said Sharon Plumb, invasive species coordinator, for the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.


Catastrophic Flooding Once Again on the Way, And We Will Pay

Catastrophic floods are coming down the Missouri River, and, sadly, once more we will be treated to the spectacle of people who express surprise at the consequences of building in floodplains. As taxpayers, we will be the ones who must pay for their repeated folly, and, as long as we do, they will continue to rebuild because they do not have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

The Environmental News Service reports:

Reservoir storage is now near capacity after a year's worth of rain fell in the Upper Missouri River Basin during the past few weeks. In addition, snowpacks measured at 140 percent of normal in Montana, northern Wyoming and the western Dakotas are melting, contributing to unprecedented runoff to the Missouri River and its tributaries.

Water managers expect significant flooding in cities, towns and agricultural land along the Missouri River in North and South Dakota. Many stretches of the river from Sioux City, Iowa, to the Mississippi River will rise above flood stage.

"Moving water out of the reservoirs is essential," said Brig. Gen. John McMahon, Commander of the Northwestern Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. "Protecting lives is our number one priority right now."