Pennington County officials took stock of an array of recent flood reports and statistics Tuesday, including a near record water elevation in the Pactola Reservoir, an estimated 25- to 30-foot-deep landslide affecting a rural road in the northeastern part of the county, soil saturation levels that are at or near 100 percent countywide, recent closures on 36 county roads, and a running total of $725,000 in unexpected costs incurred by taxing entities in the county since the latest round of flooding began May 21.
The information was provided by county employees to the county commission during a regularly scheduled meeting at the Administration Building in Rapid City.
Dustin Willett, the county’s emergency management director, said 7 to 9 inches of rain fell in recent weeks on soil that was already saturated by snow in March and April. Willett said the top 4 to 5 feet of soil in the county is 99 to 100 percent saturated.
“There is no more capacity in our soil, almost across the entirety of Pennington County, to absorb any water,” Willett said. “So, basically that means any water that falls is going to end up running into a drainage.”
Area reservoirs are also full. As of Tuesday afternoon, water in the Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills stood at an elevation of 4,588.56 feet, about a foot shy of the record elevation of 4,589.5 feet that was reached in 2015.
Roads throughout the county have taken a beating from flooding and excess groundwater. A prime example, said Highway Superintendent Joseph Miller, is Wilsey Road. A section of that rural gravel road in the far northeast part of the county recently gave way to a landslide caused by high water in the Cheyenne River.
Miller said his department hopes to replace the washed-out portion of the road with a temporary road a little farther from the river, to provide access to five or six households located north of the landslide. The only other access is an inconvenient route through Haakon County.
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Ultimately, a permanent rebuild of the road farther away from the meandering river may be necessary even though a relocated road could also be affected by future periods of high water.
“There’s nowhere to move the road that’s not going to get washed out,” Miller said.
Wilsey Road is only one of the trouble spots that has kept Miller’s department busy. He said flooding caused 36 temporary closures on county roads in the span of one recent week, May 21-28.
Willett said he has tallied $725,000 in unplanned, flood-related costs borne since May 21 by taxing entities within the county, including organizations such as county government, municipal governments, road districts and sanitary districts. Willett submitted those costs to state government, which is compiling costs from counties to consider seeking federal emergency funding.
Little relief is apparently in store from nature. As Willett spoke Tuesday morning in the Commission Chambers of the Administration Building, the rumble of a quickly passing thunderstorm could be heard outside.
And he said the National Weather Service’s long-term outlook is bleak.
“Right now we have pretty solid numbers that say we are going to be wetter and colder over the next three months."