Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Impending 100 year flood is scaring the heck out of us

 


A flooding mountain river in Wyoming can be an “insatiable monster.” That is what I called the middle fork of the Popo Agie River here in Lander seven years ago when we experienced a 50-year flood event.

Unfortunately, based on snowpack in the mountains, it is entirely possible we will see a 100-year flood event this year.

For those of us who lived through what occurred here in 2010, it is hard to imagine that it could get any worse.

But snowpack levels, as I write this, are at 326 percent of historical averages. This is just an astonishing amount of water and snow.

Much of Wyoming has been in a flood watch over the past two weeks.

Back in 2010, high water victimized folks in Fremont, Albany, Johnson, Platte, Natrona, Carbon and Sweetwater counties.

Here in Lander we were in the middle of one of the largest public disaster effort in the state’s history.

Millions of dollars were spent. Some 400 National Guard soldiers were here. Over 500,000 sand bags were filled. Over 35,000 hours of volunteer effort were documented.

Fire departments were supposed to gather in Lander on that weekend for their annual convention but it was cancelled due to the flooding. Some 11 counties sent emergency crews to help out anyway. At one point, more than 32 square miles of (normally dry) Fremont County land was under water.

There were 43 different agencies involved in our local effort.

One of the main reasons we moved to Wyoming 47 years ago was the Popo Agie River that runs through Lander.

This mountain stream is one of those rivers that you see pictured on calendars. That image whetted the appetite for this young Midwesterner who yearned to get to the mountains.

But our friendly little stream had turned into quite the angry foe. We always thought we were lucky to live along this river. Its bank was about 500 yards from us. After the flood, it is now about 450 yards away.

We also have Big Dickinson Creek running through our back yard. Yes, that is the creek that in 1963 caused the worst flood in Lander’s history.

Our personal flooding woes started June 4, 2010, when water breached some riverbanks at a rural residence upriver. The storm of water that gushed through our property swamped the creek bed and caused water in basements downstream from us.

Firemen and officials were diligent in trying to figure out where the water was coming from and getting it stopped. State Sen. Cale Case, who is also president of the Lander Ditch Association, did yeoman work in getting a dike built.

After that incident, the town seemed safe until June 8 when a surge knocked out Mortimore Lane Bridge, washed out a half acre of my land, sucked a cabin off our property and pretty much scoured the riverbed.

Beautiful private homes along the river belonging to Carl and Anne Huhnke (president of Central Bank and Trust) and Chuck and Cathy Guschewsky (CEO of Fremont Motors) were severely threatened and, at times, looked like they were going to wash away.

At Lander’s City Park, the river was almost 100 yards wide in some places.

Watching huge machines dump gigantic boulders onto the bank of a levee only to see the river suck the rocks away was awesome. It reminded me of a movie scene where you are feeding an insatiable monster. Like Little Shop of Horrors where the monster says “Feed me! Feed me!”

And as we waited for the high water, it also felt like being a town under siege. We knew the enemy was out there but did not know when it would attack or how big their force would be. Unease all around. Folks were tense and sleep-deprived for days on end.

Folks in Hudson, Riverton and all over the Wind River Indian Reservation were flooded about the same time too, as water from the three forks of the Popo Agie, the Little Wind and the Big Wind surged.

Joe Austin of the National Outdoor Leadership School got sucked into a culvert while volunteering. He disappeared before everyone’s eyes. Miraculously, he was shot out the other end and emerged from the river very wet, very shaken but very much alive. It occurred on his 52nd birthday.

There were no injuries or deaths. Then-Lander Mayor Mick Wolfe had a bandaged right hand, a sandbagging injury. “I wasn’t watching and a gal speared me with a spade. I am not as quick as I used to be,” he commented dryly.

About the only good news came from the Wyoming Department of Health whose officials thought many of the West Nile mosquito nests were washed away – maybe all the way to Nebraska.

Back in 2010, I wrapped up a column that I had written about the raging Popo Agie River with this final series of comments about its name:

Most folks pronounce it Poposha.

Some old-timers call it Popo Aggie.

One historian says it is Popo Argee.

Lately, I have been calling it Popo Angry.

 

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