FORT PIERRE, South Dakota - Homeowners are watching as their biggest investments drown in the Missouri River, and some do not have flood insurance to recover the loss.
People in one affluent Fort Pierre development believed their homes would be protected by the nearby Oahe Dam. The last flood was in 1952, before the government built the series of six dams along the river.
Brent and Linda Dykstra's riverfront property is currently swimming in uncertainty. In recent weeks, the couple has torn up carpet, moved out furniture, and even installed a makeshift network of pipes and pumps to keep the water level stable.
Along with neighbors and volunteers, they have rushed to stack sandbags on berms. Several times, they have raised the barricades as new water estimates surface.
"I have learned how to do all this on the fly," said Brent Dykstra, pointing to all the flood prevention measures surrounding his home. "It is trial by fire."
The Dykstras moved into the neighborhood in 2004. They say many of their neighbors sank retirement savings into seven-figure properties along the river. Located just downstream from the massive Oahe Dam, the homes are not classified as a high-risk area on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps. As a result, nobody bought flood insurance.
"To think that all of this would just go away," Brent Dykstra said as his voice trailed off. "That would be a pretty tough deal."
There are ten homes in the neighborhood that back up to the river. At the moment, everyone is living somewhere else. The Dykstras are staying with Linda's brother. However, so far, all the homes have avoided having water on the main level by a matter of inches.
Brent Dykstra believes the high water is evidence of river mismanagement by the Army Corps of Engineers. He thinks flood prevention has slipped as a priority over the years, being replaced by things like hydro-power.
Fort Pierre's public works director agrees there should have been a more proactive approach before spring rains made this year's flooding inevitable.
"Instead of saying, 'Well, I'm following the manual. I've got this much water in storage on this date and I'm good to go.' It seems like seems like they were wearing blinders and ignoring the mountain snowpack and the plains snowpack and not making adjustments for dam releases," said Lawrence. "That's just not very smart."
The same river that makes the Dykstra's home such prized property is now in jeopardy of washing it all way.
"My flood insurance policy is five miles upstream," said Brent Dykstra, pointing toward Oahe. "That was going to protect me. And I would've bet my life savings this would never happen."
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