Concerns addressed: Runoff information shared at City Hall during conference

Conditions are vastly different from 2011, the year Minot experienced the worst flood in the city’s history.

Reservoirs on the Souris River drainage above Minot have been drawn down several feet more than usual to ensure there is ample storage to assist in managing the upcoming melt. Communications have improved among key agencies involved in forecasting, water movement and damage prevention.

Those were among the elements stressed during a press conference held at Minot’s City Hall Friday afternoon.

“I want to emphasize that we are not anticipating a major event like we had in 2011, but we all know we want to be prepared. We want you to know what we know,” said Mayor Curt Zimbelman in his opening remarks. “We’ve been monitoring the river system all year long.”

Zimbelman told the gathering about his recent flight up and down the Souris River Basin, including a look at three reservoirs that capture Souris River flows in Saskatchewan.

“There’s no doubt they have a record amount of snow in Canada,” said Zimbelman. “You can see where the Canadians have lowered those reservoirs. I want to thank them for that.”

Jack Nybakken, Ward County commission chairman, made the flight with Zimbelman and added that he also wished to thank the Canadians for their support in the amount of water that they have released to date.

Additionally, the level of Lake Darling is now scheduled to be drawn down to 1,592 feet, one foot lower than earlier announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The extra foot, says the Corps, will allow for approximately 9,000 acre feet of additional storage in the reservoir above Minot. Lake Darling was slightly over 1,593 feet and dropping Friday.

Zimbelman said he was urging that Lake Darling be dropped to 1,591 feet and that a compromise involving the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in establishing the 1,592 foot level. Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann, of the Corps, addressed the issue via phone call during Friday’s press conference.

“With the current temperature forecast, there is not enough time before melt occurs to bring the pool down further without increasing discharge,” said Bergman.

According to the Corps, when Lake Darling reaches 1,592 feet the amount of outflow will be adjusted to equal the amount of inflow until the melt begins. Lake Darling is currently releasing 2,800 cubic feet per second of water, an amount that will be continually assessed throughout the runoff period.

“We will be communicating all changes,” assured Bergman. “We will be sending a team to the basin next week to collect data on the snowpack, ice as well as monitor the melt.”

A statement issued by Col. Michael Price, Corps’ St. Paul district commander, stated the Corps is working closely with all international, federal, state and local partners to jointly plan for potential flooding in the Souris River Basin.

John Paul Martin, Bismarck National Weather Service, assessed the situation along the Souris by saying, “So far this is working out okay. We are trying to communicate with the public earlier than we have ever done.”

Martin said abnormally cool temperatures for this time of year has resulted in a slow, steady melt that has produced very little runoff. Furthermore, stated Martin, the 10 to 14 day outlook calls for more below normal temperatures. Even a significant spring storm that is expected to impact much of the state, including Minot, had changed the center of its track from southern Saskatchewan to deeper into North Dakota.

“It is a very significant major winter storm this weekend,” said Martin. “The good news is that it was headed for southeast Saskatchewan and has now shifted south.”

Late Friday the NWS projected the Minot area to receive 10 inches or more of wet snow. Other regions farther south could get a foot of snow. According to Martin, the snow water content in the storm is expected to be about a 10 to one ratio, meaning one inch of precipitation for 10 inches of snow. However, with cooler temperatures in the forecast, the upcoming storm is not expected to significantly alter runoff projections which show little chance of flooding at most points along the Souris.

“Our situation today is nowhere near what it was in 2011. That is critical to keep in mind,” stated Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota National Guard. “Importantly, what we have seen in the last several weeks, is a much higher level of communication than what we experienced prior to the events in 2011. We want to insure that everyone is well aware of what is taking place, how decisions are being made and what’s happening meteorlogically as well as hydrologically.”

Sprynczynatyk emphasized that the National Guard was well prepared to assist should the need arise to do so.

Burlington Mayor Jerome Gruenberg told the gathering that he has a reasonable level of confidence that Burlington is well protected. The Des Lacs River joins the Souris at Burlington, giving the community the distinction of keeping an eye on two rivers.

“No more sandbagging,” said Gruenberg, explaining that levies protecting Burlington were wide enough to permit access by heavy equipment if the need should arise. As a precaution, noted Gruenberg, volunteers were needed to assist with tree removal in areas where a wider footprint for a dike is preferred.

“This is not an emergency situation,” stated Gruenberg. “We are asking for volunteers to contact our public works person to cut and remove trees in advance of placing dirt if it is needed. We are just trying to put ourselves in a better position if emergency work is needed.”

Minot’s Assistant Public Works Director Jason Sorenson outlined what the city has done to prepare for the possibility of higher than anticipated flows in the Souris this spring. Sorenson explained that contractors have been contacted and that he received assurances they would be available at a moment’s notice to assist the city if needed. In addition, said Sorenson, 3,000 filled sandbags have been stored and are available for a quick response if necessary.

One question asked at Friday’s press conference concerned the expected amount of runoff versus the amount of storage available in the Souris River system. Although a number of variables exist that can effect runoff, Lt. Col. Bergmann stated that, under the current conditions, that he believed the situation was manageable.