Flood control

VELVA Flood protection that is compatible with all the needs and uses along the Souris River may seem to be an impossibility, but the effort continues to find such a solution. That was the main message delivered to a well attended public meeting held at Verendrye Electric Co-op this past Thursday.

Members of Barr Engineering of Bismarck and Ackerman-Estvold Engineering of Minot opened the meeting by detailing various plans under consideration that have been determined to reduce future flood risk in rural areas along the Souris River. Although engineers pointed out preliminary preferred alternatives, consideration of flood control plans was not limited to the dozen alternatives presented.

Tim Fay, of the North Dakota State Water Commission, addressed the gathering, emphasizing that the alternatives were done “in a general sense,” including three alternatives engineers have identified as the most attractive possibilities. The list includes operation changes for Lake Darling Dam and the construction of ring dikes to protect certain structures downstream of Minot.

“It does not mean that in some specific locations, for a specific purpose, another alternative might have a lot of benefits,” said Fay. “There’s no reason to just forget about the other alternatives. Any one could be a real good solution for certain places. We need response from you to know what the problems are so we can better address them.”

Several landowners in the Towner area recently formed a coalition for the purpose of bringing attention to their concerns, particularly lowland flooding that persists for much longer periods of time than desired. Adverse effects have included little or no production from hay meadows and flooded roadways.

“We want to find what might be some acceptable flow rates downstream,” said Jason Westbrock, of Barr Engineering. “Reducing the duration of flooding is something that can be real effective, but can you get it built?”

Vern Kongslie, Towner, read a prepared statement on behalf of the newly formed Mouse River Coalition.

“We needed the water off a month ago,” said Kongslie. “What’s going on at Lake Darling, storing and releasing it slowly instead of letting it go? That’s the problem. It’s complicating the problem.”

Another landowner from the Towner region directed his ire toward management of the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, saying, “I think you should have to suffer just like the rest of us.” It was an apparent reference to continued lowland flooding in the Towner area, much of which becomes inundated when flow rates reach 300 to 500 cubic feet per second.

Fay interjected, “The Souris River Joint Board recognizes the shortfalls and wants to remedy that. They want to find a solution for the entire basin.”

“We’re in serious trouble and it seems like no one can hear us,” stated Lynn Kongslie, Towner area resident.

Much of the evening’s discussion centered on proposed flood control projects in Minot which are being designed to contain a flow of 27,000 cfs, a level which was encountered during the 2011 flood. Downstream interests fear that amount of protection in Minot could lead to increased flooding along the Souris below the city. However, engineers revealed that studies show the opposite to be true, that there would be less flooding downstream of Minot during times of high water if Minot’s proposed flood protection was in place.

A portion of the meeting was devoted to examining conflicts between rural and urban flood protection needs. Primary concerns in the rural areas center around the duration of high water, while urban needs are mostly concerned with the height of flow.

Ryan Ackerman, Ackerman-Estvold Engineering, cautioned the group about becoming too caught up in high flow numbers that have become the center of attention for flood control. Ackerman explained the differences between three separate sets of flow rates base flood flow, target flow and designed flood flow.

Target flows were identified as primarily intended to benefit rural interests. The existing target flow for Minot is 5,000 cfs, an amount of water that causes significant flooding in rural areas. The base flood flow and designed flood flow are considered independent situations. The base flood flow is usually considered to be the 100-year flood plain. The designed flood flow is used to describe minimum flood protection for an area.

Thursday’s meeting provided engineers with additional input to a difficult problem, how to provide beneficial basin-wide flood protection in the aftermath of the 2011 flood.

“It’ll be a mix of solutions,” said Fay. “There’s no single alternative that will be all encompassing.”