Another day, another disaster: Floods continue for ranchers in south central, south east South Dakota and much of Nebraska
Dealing with eight disasters in six months seems almost unbelievable, but to Rich and Sara Grim and many other South Dakota and Nebraska ranchers, it is very much their reality.
When runoff from an overnight rain raised water levels higher than she’s ever seen them on Sept. 12, 2019, Sara said their barn and corrals were underwater, and water was within 50 feet of her house – something she’s never seen.
After the bomb cyclone in March, then an April blizzard, a tornado, along with “flood after flood,” the community is growing weary.
“Our commissioners have started combining disasters together because there are so many,” she said.
“We don’t know if there will be FEMA money or not. We’re going into winter, how will we repair our roads? Our culverts are out, our bridges are out, there is no gravel on our roads, it’s hard for anyone to do business,” said Sara.
While the Grims don’t do much farming, they planted some millet for hay this year. “After cleaning the field off three times, we finally got it planted in July. Now that’s all gone,” she said, of the flooded field.
Neighbors’ alfalfa fields are underwater and bales have washed away and are sitting, soaking in floodwater.
“The water has always moved away from the yard,” she said of their home quarters, which are about 150 yards from the north fork of the Whetstone Creek.
Sara’s grandparents lived on the place northeast of Burke, South Dakota and Sara has lived there all of her life.
In fact flooding once moved her home, which was then relocated to higher ground.
“It was a little cabin at the time, it floated down the creek in the ‘20s. The family put it up on higher ground, put a basement on it and added on to it a couple of times.”
While their home was spared, the most recent flooding event was too close to for comfort.
“It actually ran through the middle of our yards, into a barn and covered most of the corrals, we’ve never had that before.”
Sara said the creek has flooded before, but that the incidents are getting worse because of increasing runoff and silt building up in the river bottom.
“This water has nowhere to go.”
Two or three neighbors have been totally flooded out over the years and forced to move, she said. One is at least a mile and a half from the river.
One neighbor moved to a different house because their road has continued to wash out.
“Their corrals and fields have been underwater. They weren’t able to plant at all this year,” she said.
Another neighbor has struggled all summer to put up hay, in part because he couldn’t get across his creek. “He finally got a culvert put in last week and guess what, it’s gone now.” He doesn’t now how he will move his hay or cattle across the creek, she said.
She explained that in she and her husband always wean their calves in the early fall, then sell them in January.
“We live in river hills, the cattle are in high country right now. They are doing well but we can’t sell them off the cow because it takes us quite a while to gather everything. We gather a group and wean, then gather another little group and wean them. It takes us a while to get everything together, that’s why we don’t sell off the cow,” she explained.
The Grims haven’t had dry enough weather to haul manure out of their “calf pen,” so they haven’t weaned yet, which became a blessing this week.
Their calves would have been standing in the corrals when the water came through.
“Can you imagine if we had weaned? We’d have opened the gate and who knows where they would be, or we could have lost them.”
Neighbors are all “in the same boat.”
“Nobody is weaning, nobody’s been able to clean their yards from this spring. It breaks my heart how this will affect the market,” she said.
With 54 inches of moisture already this year, their moisture level is at about 225 percent above normal, she said.
“Who would have thought that we would have this many disasters in six months? You try to be upbeat and positive, but man it’s getting old. We used to have a disaster and we’d clean up and move on. We keep thinking it can’t get worse, and then we are proven wrong,” she said.
But “it’s a great life if we don’t weaken,” she says, and looks out the window to see the water receding.
No travel was advised in Gregory County for the day, all of the schools in the county were closed, as well as in many other counties east and south into Eastern South Dakota and Nebraska.
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