North Fork River in Howell County landowners want better flood monitoring

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 6:45 PM CDT
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CAULFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On April 29, 2017, a record-crushing storm caused massive flooding throughout the Ozarks. On the North Fork River (aka, North Fork of the White River) in south central Missouri, floodwaters destroyed more than 30 homes, carrying many of them several miles downriver before dumping the shattered remains on the river’s shorelines. Dozens more homes sustained major damage.

The majority of the homeowners whose homes were destroyed had not been able to insure their riverfront properties. With no help coming from federal or state agencies, many could not afford to rebuild their homes. All along the river, wide expanses of grass have replaced former homesites. Most owners who have rebuilt have moved to higher ground.

People who have riverfront property rely heavily on data provided by the United States Geological Survey to monitor water levels. In April, 2017, Sandy Johnson and her husband and Tim had spent one night in their “dream home” on the river, where they planned to retire. On April 29, the USGS website was predicting the water would peak at 24 feet, well below their home. To be on the safe side, they headed back to their other home in town, but left their personal belongings behind.

The river rose to 46 feet, sweeping the Johnson’s home off its foundation. They found pieces scattered downstream, with the largest part of the house coming to rest three miles away.

“If we had known the water was going to get that high, we would have taken time to remove some of our belongings from the house,” said Johnson. “We knew several hours ahead of time the water was coming, we just didn’t know how much.”

The few items they found from their previous home now sit on a three-feet wide shelf in their living room.

Amy Spencer owned Sunburst Ranch, a camping and canoeing resort just downstream from the Johnsons. They lost pretty much everything at the resort. Spencer agrees with Johnson, the USGS needs to do a better job of monitoring water levels.

“The problem is, their monitoring equipment is in Tecumseh, which is way below where pretty much everyone lives or has businesses on the North Fork,” she said. “What we really need is a monitoring station about 12 miles north of here, so we know what’s coming instead of what’s already passed.”

Spencer and Johnson both have been in contact with USGS and National Weather Service officials to try to remedy the situation. So far, they said, nothing has changed. The Great Flood of 2017 was called a “1,000-year flood.” Spencer and Johnson just hope that holds true.

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