Garrison Dam’s Spillway Pond gone forever?

When water was released through the Garrison Dam spillway gates in 2011, no one could predict with any certainty what the entire downstream effect would be. Releases of such magnitude had never been made in the history of the dam, but necessary because Lake Sakakawea had reached maximum elevation.

The destructive force of the water not only flooded many locations along the Missouri River all the way to Bismarck and beyond, but also tore a new route through the bottomland below the spillway. A casualty of the unprecedented release was the Spillway Pond, an impoundment known for containing a wide variety of fish. It was also the source of water for the outdoor rearing ponds at the nearby Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery.

The rushing water of 2011 blew through the earthen berm that had backed up water to form the Spillway Pond. With the berm gone, the level of the Spillway Pond dropped several feet to match the level of the Missouri River. The dramatic drop in water level not only left the Spillway Pond boat ramp far out of the water, it also rendered the pumps that moved water from the pond to the hatchery useless. The intakes to the pumps were left high and dry.

The initial problem of moving water to outdoor rearing ponds at the hatchery was to acquire large portable pumps. A major drawback was that rental proved to be too much of a burden on the hatchery’s limited budget. Fortunately, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department responded by paying for pump rental, which kept the outdoor ponds in operation. NDG&F has agreed to pick up the tab for pumps during the upcoming production season as well.

NDG&F does not own a fish hatchery. They have a cooperative agreement with the Garrison Dam and Valley City hatcheries to annually raise thousands of walleye, northern pike, panfish, salmon and trout each year for release into North Dakota waters.

If the Spillway Pond is restored, existing pumping equipment encased in permanent housings could be used once again to fill the hatchery’s outdoor rearing ponds. To date though, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has no plan to fix the damage done to the Spillway Pond. That also means a loss of fishing boat access, abandonment of a public swim beach and reliance upon pumps supplied by NDG&F to keep the hatchery fish rearing ponds in operation.

There is a natural place across the cut below the spillway where a dike could be built – seemingly with minimal effort – that would restore the water level in the Spillway Pond. However, the site is on Corps land and would have to be done by the Corps or agencies hired and approved by the Corps.

The Corps says it requested funds to restore the Spillway Pond but was denied. According to a Corps spokesman, the Corps has no other funds available for Spillway Pond revitalization and does not see that situation changing in the foreseeable future.

The Spillway Pond had existed for nearly 60 years.