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Swan Lake Expands from 3,000 to 10,000 Acres Overnight!
Midwest Region, June 1, 2008
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Ironically, the sign warns visitors not to access the area as flood waters rush over a levee at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, MO.  Photo by Steve Whitson.
Ironically, the sign warns visitors not to access the area as flood waters rush over a levee at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, MO. Photo by Steve Whitson. - Photo Credit: n/a

Ten inches of rain in one night! The Midwest has had a very wet spring sending many streams and rivers out of their banks.  To add insult to injury, seven to ten inches of rain fell in one night over the Grand and Chariton River basins in central Missouri during June. The skies just won’t quit raining! Where does all that water go? Well, when the ground is saturated and the Missouri River is above flood stage, the water backs up and spills over (or bursts through) the levees.  The water inundates farm fields, timber stands, roads and homes. Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, Mo. was no exception.

The morning of June 27, Columbia National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (NFWCO) received a phone call asking for a sand bagging brigade. As Project Leader Tracy Hill rounded up the troops another phone call came in – there was no need for sandbagging. Water had already topped the levees and was filling the refuge. Steve Whitson, Swan Lake Refuge Manager, did request a shallow-water boat and a driver to transport refuge staff around the property to assess the damage. Hill dispatched lead technicians Colby Wrasse and I to assist the staff of Swan Lake NWR. Paul McKenzie, a fish and wildlife biologist with Ecological Services, also joined us to survey the refuge.  McKenzie has done extensive surveys of Massasauga rattlesnakes on the property and was curious to see if flood waters had inundated rattlesnake habitat.

Shortly after arriving and assessing the situation, we set off to launch the boat. Wrasse backed the truck and trailer down a levee for approximately a quarter mile – the point at which the water was rushing over the road. After donning waders and carefully testing the depth, we decided to drop the boat in off the side of the levee into what was (just a few hours before) a corn field. With the boat launched and the trucks parked a safe distance away Steve Whitson, Levi Miller, Chris Clemens, Paul McKenzie, Colby Wrasse and I boarded the boat and took off for the visitor’s center several miles away. An audible sigh of relief was heard as we pulled up to discover the office, visitor center and outbuildings were dry. The entire main road into the refuge was a roaring waterfall, but the buildings were on high enough ground that they were spared. Refuge staff set about securing a few items (just in case) and rescuing some others to take to higher ground. We then spent the rest of the afternoon surveying the refuge fields and levees to estimate the extent and severity of damages. A special thanks to Levi, a 25+ year veteran of the refuge, who safely navigated us around and through all those trees, levees and fences!

Despite the flooding, wildlife viewing was still good. We saw dozens of snakes, deer, birds and even a swimming raccoon! Paul believes that part of the prairie was still dry thereby creating a refuge (on the refuge) for the Massasauga rattlesnakes. More rain fell in the Grand and Chariton River basin that night. A near record crest of 40.02 ft on the Grand River (the highest since the “Flood of 1993”) caused a tremendous amount of damage. Fortunately, no one was injured and the refuge buildings were spared.

We were pleased to be able to assist one of our local refuges during a time of crisis. We hope that by strengthening our partnerships within our agency we will ultimately be able to maximize the ability to address our resource conservation goals.  This was my first visit to Swan Lake NWR and I can’t wait to go back once everything has dried out! 


Contact Info: Patricia Herman, 573-234-2132 x170, Patricia_Herman@fws.gov



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