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NRCS Employee Volunteers to Protect South Dakotans from Flood

by Paul Sweeney

This post originally appeared on the USDA blog on June 27, 2011.

Ed Note: This post features the reflection of a USDA employee who volunteered his time and used his knowledge and experience to help a small community build a sandbag dike to protect their homes from rising flood waters. With much of the nation facing similar challenges, we hope this story inspires you to find a way to make a difference in your own neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from my brother and sister-in-law. They had just found out that their home might be impacted by the Missouri River flooding.

My brother-in-law knew I had experience with sandbag dike assembly from the assistance I had already provided in Bismarck, ND, and my wife and I offered to help our family prepare for the predicted flood. We immediately got in the car and drove the nine hours to North Sioux City, SD.

When we arrived, I was told that several neighbors planned to meet first thing in the morning to develop a strategy. What had started out as a one-home effort turned into a project where all the residents along the north side of Suncoast Drive constructed a community sandbag dike protecting 27 homes. It was quite amazing what this group accomplished.

I was able to provide basic information on how to place the plastic barrier for the dike, proper placement of sand bags, how to finish the dike and even some basic survey help, with one of the residents who was an engineer.

The group organized and decided on basic strategy to get the work done and then commenced with an abandon that would be the envy of most construction firms. The residents broke up into small groups that loaded sand on trailers and in pickups for sandbag filling in the driveways along the dike.

Other individuals hauled prefilled sandbags on trailers and pickups. And many others, young and old, placed sandbags to three days until the U-shaped dike was completed. Those who were not doing the heavy work were fixing food, supplying empty bags and handing out water to the volunteers in the 90-plus-degree heat.

When the last bag was dropped, the plastic sheet wrapped over the top, and the base and top bags set, a cheer went up from the entire tired ragtag group.

Our dike was visited by South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaardand North Sioux City Mayor Don Fuxa, who hailed it as an example for other neighborhoods and areas to work together in the flood fight.

I am proud of the small contribution I made to this effort. I know many other employees of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in North and South Dakota have been volunteering to help coworkers and neighbors to try and keep the Mighty Moe at bay.

Isn't that just who we are at USDA?

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