The Great Flood Of 1951 And the Reservoirs Built In Kansas To Help Flood Control

Prepared and submitted by Phyllis Stewart

The flood of 1951 was called “once in a hundred-year flood”. They were wrong again. 1986 has been the biggest flood. At this time Truman Dam was not built, but the planning started quickly after the ’51 flood.  The engineers decided that the Osage River had to have some flood control. People say that all Truman Dam was built for was a “catch pond” for Lake of the Ozarks.

It took many years to complete the dam project. New bridges had to be built and old ones demolished, roads had to be built, towns and cemeteries had to be replaced and easements had to be completed.  Highway 13 had to be relocated and railroads had to be rebuilt. Millions of dollars were spent to build the Truman Dam. Truman is the largest flood control lake in Missouri.

I can remember the flood around Rich Hill. The roads were closed north, south and east. There was flooding around Ft Scott, Kansas so people traveling south couldn’t get any further south than Ft. Scott.

If we wanted to come to Papinville we went to Millers ranch (southeast of Rich Hill) and took a boat to my grandpa and grandma, delivering groceries and to other residents. With Truman not being built yet the water receded faster than it does today. I can remember the awful smell from the high waters. Of course, the ’51 flood was in July and it took out the crops and hay. No wonder the smell was terrible.

This was the biggest flood since 1844 surrounding in the eastern Kansas and western Missouri areas. It affected the Kansas City area with levees not being high enough to keep the water from over flowing. The flood resulted in the loss of 17 lives and displaced 518,000 people. On July 13 this flood experienced the single greatest levels of flood and led to the greatest amount of destruction by flooding in the Midwest.  On this day a total of 1,074,000acres in Kansas and 926,000 in Missouri was covered with flood water.

The Truman Dam started being built Aug. 1964 and was completed Oct. 1979. It covered 259 square miles, being built on the Osage River and extends south of Clinton and Osceola. The water extends into parts of Henry, St. Clair and Hickory Counties. The dam was authorized by The Federal Flood Control Act of 1954.

Below the Truman Dam to the east on the Osage River Bagnell Dam was built in 1922 and completed in 1931. It was built to generate hydroelectricity to the St. Louis area and built by the Union Electric Light and Power Company (now AmerenUE).

Since Bagnell was not a Corp of Engineers project houses and boat dock could be built on the water’s edge of the Lake of the Ozarks. This is why Truman cannot release a lot of water and hold water back so the homes and businesses are not flooded. They can hold water for weeks if there has been a lot of rain on the Missouri River and it is flooded. The Lake of the Ozarks can’t go over a certain flood level. That is another reason why we have had flood water for four months. Bagnell Dam goes in to the Osage River and then into the Missouri River 15 miles to the east of Jefferson City.

How Pomona And Melvern Reservoirs Affect Flood Water In The Papinville Area

There were two Corps of Engineers dams and reservoirs built on the head waters of the Osage in Kansas, authorized by the 1954 Flood Control Act. Pomona Lake and Melvern are both built in Osage County Kansas.  Pomona was completed in 1964 and Melvern in 1972. Both of these reservoirs were built for flood control and drain into the Osage (which is the same as the Marais des Cygne).

Ponoma Lake is located about 30 miles south of Topeka, Kansas and has a drainage basin of 322 square miles. Melvern Lake is southwest of Pomona and both are in Osage County Kansas. They both played a big part on keeping this area flooded for four months.  The rains started in early May in the Pomona and Melvern area and they didn’t start draining the lakes. We were starting to have big amounts of rain and Truman was not letting any water out. By then the Missouri River area up north were have big rains and flooding, so all the reservoirs were full and the high waters kept getting bigger every day.

You always can tell when the water is being released from the Pomona and Melvern reservoirs, because the water coming down the Bates County Drainage Ditch will have a foam on top of the water and the river will be traveling fast. It usually will take 3 to 4 days for the water from Pomona and Melvern to get down to the drainage ditch bridge on B highway. After a while a person gets tired of looking at flood water for 4 months. The residents of Papinville and surrounding area feel that if Truman Dam would of let water out early than what they did it may of helped. Truman Dam is not a good subject to bring up around Papinville.

Next week the article will be on the floods of 1986 and 1995. You will get the rest of the story next week and we hope you have marked your calendar to come to the Papinville Picnic on Sept 28th. We are hoping for good weather and NO FLOODING.