The Power of Moving Water: An update on flooding in the Midwest

More and more damage is being confirmed across the Midwest from extreme weather that has caused rapidly rising flood waters. Reports of pivots, implements and vehicles being buried in mud and sand across much of north-central and northeast Nebraska, as well as parts of South Dakota and Iowa. Livestock losses are simply unbelievable.

Grain bins are bursting due to grain in farm storage bins absorbing flood waters and swelling the grain. Topsoil has been removed from substantial amounts of acreage and washed away or displaced from its original location. Estimates of damage per county in Nebraska in particular are starting to be reported, and they are likely to increase as time goes on. 

All in all, this will likely decrease land values in the region, and in some cases cause the farm not be planted in 2019.

What if we could capture the flood waters?

All dams in Nebraska are releasing water at record levels, and we wanted to know just how much water is being released into already flooded, soil saturated and frozen soil environments.

Let’s use Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, South Dakota, as an example, where 90,000 cubic feet of water per second is being released, and much of this water is headed for Nebraska. If our math is correct, 90,000 cubic feet x 7.48 (gallons of water in 1 cubic foot) = 673,200 gallons released per second.

Gavins Port Dam Yankton South DakotaGavin's Point Dam

Center pivots are normally set for 800 gallon per minute or 13.33 gallon per second. 673,200 gallons / 13.33 gallons = 50,616.54 pivots could be run from water being released at Gavins Point Dam.

There were an estimated 55,000 center pivots in Nebraska in 2008, and the number has increased sharply since then. At 130 acres under each pivot, 50,616.54 pivots x 130 acres =  6,580,150.2 acres could be irrigated with the water being released from Gavins Point Dam.

90,000 cubic feet x 7.48 gallons per cubic foot = 673,200 gallon per second / 325,851 gallon per acre foot =  2.066 acre feet of water per second.

2.066 x 60 seconds = 123.96 acre feet of water per minute.

123.96 acre feet x 60 minutes = 7,437.6 acre feet per hour!

7,437.6 acre feet of water per hour x 24 hours = 178,502.4 acre feet of water. A center pivot irrigation system averages 12 inches of subsidized water in an average year. This then converts this acre feet of water directly to 178,502.2 acres of full irrigation per day of water release.

178,502.5 acres x 250 bushels production per acre =  44,625,600 bushel of corn could be produced with no irrigation cost.

This is from one day of released water. How many days will water be released? No one knows at this time. If only this excess water could be captured.

The weight of the water, and why it causes so much damage

Water weighs 8,345 pounds per gallon.

8.345 pounds x 27,154 gallon in an acre inch = 226,600 total pounds per acre inch.

An acre inch of water weighs 113.3 tons!  

673,200 gallon water per second x 8.345 lbs per gallon = 5,617,854 lbs per second x 60 seconds = 337,071,240 lbs of water per minute being released from Gavins Point Dam.  

337,071,240 / 2000 lbs per ton = 168,535.62 tons of water per minute.

168,535.62 tons x 60 minutes = 10,112,137.2 tons per hour.

It’s not difficult to understand how that much weight can take out roads, bridges, vehicles, equipment and homes. Then add in the ice jams acting as battering rams and you get the catastrophic damage we’re seeing today.

Farmers and ranchers are resilient and always come to each other’s side during tragedy. Aid is arriving from many places, but it will take some time before they will resolve the problems and damage that have been encountered. Farmers have the work ethic, faith and drive to achieve what others might think is unimaginable.