Residents want basin-wide approach to study on river management

Residents of the Souris River Basin downstream of Velva asked the International Souris River Board Wednesday to address their flow concerns when investigating possible changes to river management.

The board held a public meeting in Minot Wednesday to take comments on a proposed plan of study for the water supply and flood operating plan contained in a 1989 Canada-United States Agreement. The board wants the study to identify changes needed in the operating plan and determine how best to make them.

Members of the Souris River Joint Board, representing counties in the basin, urged a basinwide approach in revising the operating plan. Col. Michael Price with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded that the intent is to look at the entire basin, of which 75 percent is in Canada.

Price said the board is considering three study options that vary in scope and estimated cost from about $1 million to $2.2 million. The board is favoring a middle option costing $1.33 million. Some elements of the research already are under way. Those costs, estimated at about $145,000, would be subtracted from the total when the board presents its recommendation to the International Joint Commission, which will take a recommendation to the U.S. and Canadian governments for approval and funding.

“I am OK with the Chevrolet model as long as you kick the tires and check the oil to make sure we get to the destination,” Ward County Commissioner Alan Walter said, in support of something less than the $2.2 million study. “We want to have a basin-wide plan in this study, not just from the border down to Minot, but all the way from the border to Minot through Velva all the way up to the border again. There’s some very important features beyond Velva that need to be addressed.”

Clifford Issendorf, Kramer, with the Bottineau County Water Resource Board and Souris River Joint Board, said creation of the J. Clark Salyer Refuge and the raising of dams has increased problems along the river. That was evident in 2011, he said.

“If the last dam was not raised right before Canada, would we have lost Highway 5 in Bottineau County? Would we have had to spend millions of dollars to keep one road open between Westhope and Landa? That was the only road left in Bottineau County. So as we look at this basinwide approach, I really want you to look at the refuge. If we are going to have flow through the refuge, we are going to have to modify what’s there,” he said.

“We need cooperation from the Fish and Wildlife Service, not only in the valley in the bottoms but up on the toplands. If we are going to make this system work, we need their cooperation, not for them to turn around and stab us in the back whenever they can.”

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman requested that the board take every interim step possible to better manage water in the system while waiting for results of a study. The study is expected to take two years, and Price could not say how long it might be before operating changes are made. However, Price said, the management plan already has been adjusted to take into consideration rainfall occurring after spring runoff. That had been an issue with Minot officials.

“As we found out, spring snow runoff is not the only determining factor in water level,” Zimbelman said. “The perfect mix of saturated soil, heavy snow through the winter and much higher than average spring rain, which continued through the month of June, led to the 2011 flood disaster of historic proportions. No one foresaw that event, and no one can predict with certainty when it is ever going to happen again. Therefore, procedures need to be put in place that will better monitor and better respond to the kind of conditions that led to the 2011 flood.”

He also asked that the Corps study the potential effect of raising Lake Darling and other storage upstream of Minot.

Cliff Hanretty, Towner, chairman of Eaton Irrigation Project, said raising Lake Darling is a problem because when that stored water is released, it destroys the hay meadows downstream.

“We have lost over a $1 million a year and we don’t get compensated,” he said.”We need water pushed through in the spring. … It will ruin our hay crop if you start running a late flow.”

The public can view the proposed plan of study at ( under “boards” by clicking on “ongoing task forces.” Another opportunity to get information and make comments will be available during a webinar and teleconference Tuesday at 7 p.m. For instructions on how to join the online meeting or phone conference, contact Bob White at 328-2756 or

Written comments will be considered if received by April 7. They should be sent to Bob White, International Souris River Board secretary, North Dakota State Water Commission, 900 East Boulevard Avenue, Dept. 770, Bismarck, N.D. 58505-0850.