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Rising waters near record

Marion Reservoir tops capacity for the 2nd time in history; more to come

More than a third of an entire year’s worth of rainfall coming in just three weeks caused widespread flooding, stranded motorists, closed heavily traveled roads, briefly prompted an evacuation, and pushed already swollen Marion Reservoir over its capacity for only the second time in history Tuesday.

If the near historic rainfall wasn’t enough, substantially more rain is expected tonight through Memorial Day and perhaps beyond.

Since April 29, an unofficial total of 12.25 inches of rain have fallen in Marion, which normally receives 34.36 inches in an entire year. Larger amounts have fallen elsewhere in the county.

The 23-day total in Marion is just below the 15.36 inches that fell in the same length of time in advance of historic flooding in 1951, and the current pattern of almost daily rain has not ended.

According to automated weather stations, the most recent rainy period, Friday through 8 p.m. Tuesday, saw rainfall totals of:

  • 3.46 inches east of Hillsboro.
  • 4.08 inches in Marion.
  • 4.08 north of Durham.
  • 4.14 southeast of Goessel.
  • 4.23 south of Lost Springs.
  • 4.28 in Durham.
  • 4.67 north of Lost Springs.
  • 5.77 in Goessel.

A total of 5.87 inches fell in the four days before the 1951 flood.

Since then, levees have been built around both Marion and Florence, where the Cottonwood River was well above flood stage Tuesday.

At Florence, the Cottonwood was above 25½ feet, or more than 4 feet above flood stage.

Surface flooding was reported at Main and 5th Sts. inside the levee. Outside the levee, 5th St. and a bridge along it were reported underwater.

At Marion, the Cottonwood was above 27½ feet, more than 11½ feet over flood stage.

County crews closed 190th Rd. (old US-56) where it traverses a floodplain just west of Marion, downstream from Marion Dam.

Until early Tuesday, engineers at the dam had been releasing 561

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cubic feet of water per second to help prevent Marion Reservoir from reaching capacity.

They were forced to stop around 2 a.m. because of downstream conditions, but the reservoir quickly swelled to within 2 inches of capacity, forcing engineers to resume releasing water at an escalated rate of 1,670 cubic feet per second.

Still, the reservoir continued to rise because water was flowing into it at almost 9,600 cubic feet per second.

“All we can do is look at forecasts coming out of our hydrology shop in Tulsa,” assistant lake manager Kevin McCoy of the Army Corps of Engineers said.

The reservoir’s record level — an elevation of 1,358.87 feet, recorded in 1993 — is actually slightly above capacity.

Capacity technically is 1,358.50 feet. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, water had reached 1,358.56 feet, about an inch above the top of the dam’s three giant tainter gates before they were raised half a foot to let water out of the reservoir.

“If we don’t take on any more significant water then we won’t hit the record,” McCoy said.

Soon after, however, a thunderstorm was reported near Durham, in the heart of the reservoir’s watershed, pushing the reservoir over capacity.

McCoy said crews would monitor the reservoir 24 hours a day.

“All dams have different levels of security,” he said. “As we take on more water, we monitor it more closely to ensure the safety of the public.”

Elsewhere in the county, a couple in their 70s had to wait several hours to be rescued after their vehicle was swamped in floodwater on Falcon Rd. near 170th Rd.

Motorist Harold Stultz Sr. of nearby 1728 Eagle Rd., was driving with his wife, Sue, when their vehicle reportedly was swept off the road near the north branch of the South Cottonwood River.

Neighbor Van Martin of Hillsboro said he went for a chain to try to help them, but when the Stultzes exited their vehicle, they found themselves waist-deep in cold, swiftly running water.

Hillsboro firefighters and EMTs were called but had difficulty reaching the site because of extremely muddy roads.

Eventually, they reached the east bank of the river, but the Stultzes had taken refuge on the west bank. By that time, water had risen to the roof of their vehicle.

Flooding was too deep and roads to the west too muddy for emergency vehicles to traverse.

Stultz left briefly and returned with a blanket for his wife. In the meantime, firefighters from Goessel were summoned to deploy an inflatable boat and reach the couple.

The husband declined treatment on the scene, but both he and his wife, who was reported to have potentially life-threatening injuries from traversing the cold water, were taken to Hillsboro Community Hospital by Hillsboro ambulance.

In Peabody, officials briefly ordered evacuation of half a dozen homes along S. Olive St., south of a Doyle Creek tributary.

Evacuation was canceled after water levels began to subside.

Flooding also was reported along 290th Rd. (the Durham-Lincolnville road), especially between Quail Creek and Sunflower Rds., and at numerous other sites in the county.

Last modified May 23, 2019

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