TUSCUMBIA, Mo. — At his shop on River Road, Jon Chevalier was sorting equipment and listening to the radio. His dogs ran around, and his chickens strutted on the gravel in front of his garage.
He was eyeing the rising Osage River, but he was not panicking. On Tuesday, Ameren Missouri had lifted the spill gates on the Bagnell Dam, just upstream from Tuscumbia, a town of about 200 people on the river.
Chevalier’s garage was farther from the river bank than some of his neighbors’ homes. He said one neighbor, who lives especially close to the river bank, had already moved some belongings to higher ground.
“When they start really squirming, I start squirming,” Chevalier, 58, said half-joking about his neighbors.
Citing near-capacity water levels at Lake of the Ozarks, Ameren on Tuesday had lifted the gates at the dam, which impounds the lake’s water. That released a torrent of water into the Osage, which flows into the Missouri River.
As of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, discharge on the Osage River at Bagnell, Mo., was 55,500 cubic feet per second, up from about 25,000 cubic feet per second on Saturday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
At Tuscumbia, the Osage River’s gauge height measured 21 feet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, up from about 10 feet on Monday.
Ameren said in a news release Tuesday it could keep the flood gates open for several weeks if current forecasts hold. The company has warned residents along the Osage River to prepare for changing water conditions on the river and at Lake of the Ozarks.
“Water movement can cause wear on dock electrical equipment,” said Warren Witt, director of hydro operations at Ameren Missouri. “I encourage all dock owners to perform regular checks and have both the dock and its power supply inspected by a qualified electrician.”
West of Tuscumbia, on Rain Drop Lane, Kenny Weaver, 53, was hanging out with his nephews at the family’s home, which sits about 50 yards from the Osage.
Weaver said he noticed Tuesday night when he was fishing that the water was rising. At about 1 p.m. Wednesday, the river was sweeping by a handful of trailers near his home.
Weaver’s dogs — he has “way too many,” he said — ran around and barked.
A litter of lab-mix puppies popped out of the garage when a reporter arrived. Muttly, their mother, moseyed down the driveway. She lay down and lounged with Spot, the father.
“I watch it (the river) but I’m not worried about it,” Weaver said.
He said in 2015 water rose all the way to his family’s home.
“We had two feet of water in our house,” Weaver said.
The family’s dock was in the most perilous position Wednesday. The river rushed against it, stressing a black tether that was tied to a tree.
“The dock is usually about 15 feet lower than it is right now,” he said.
Farther west, a campground at Brockman Spring was mostly swamped.
An old school bus was inundated, and the river flowed feet away from a playground. A dead catfish floated near the river bank. There were few signs of activity.
Downstream, to the east, near the confluence of the Osage and the Maries River, Harold Taylor, the owner of Mari-Osa Delta Campground, said Wednesday morning about a third of the campground was under water.
He said the Missouri River had already been backed up, flooding parts of his campground. On Wednesday, he was monitoring the effects of the Bagnell Dam release.
Taylor, 64, said few people had stopped by his bait shop recently.
“This year we haven’t hardly sold anything because the river,” he said. “We’re going to take a hell of a hit this year, money-wise.”
He said when the water recedes, he’ll have to replace the electric meters in the low-lying parts of his campground.
And, he’ll have to clean out all the mud.