Lingering challenges

The flood of 2011 may have devastated trees along the Souris River, but not the spirits of the people who live there. One Burlington homeowner who lost trees built a children’s play center in the backyard with the stumps and wood.

In Minot, the American flag that flew above floodwaters inundating a Perkett-area home now waves over that restored home.

Participants in the North Dakota Water Education Foundation’s “Managing the ‘Mighty’ Mouse” tour saw signs of recovery, both accomplished and still under way, as they traveled from Minot to Mouse River Park and back on Thursday.

About 30 people from around the state attended the tour. The tour was led by Jean Schafer of the foundation with assistance from Minot assistant public works director Jason Sorenson, Ryan Ackerman of Ackerman-Estvold Engineering and Jason Westbrock of Barr Engineering. The two engineering firms have been involved in the development of a basinwide flood protection plan for the valley, commissioned by the North Dakota State Water Commission for the Souris River Joint Board.

Tour participants saw lingering impact from the flood. It was apparent in the number of deceased trees along the river between Minot and Burlington and some homes and yards that remain untouched since the flood in those communities.

The tour also included a stop at Mouse River Park in Renville County, which is making a strong recovery.

“Mouse River Park is really an inspiring story. They have really bounced back,” Ackerman said.

After losing its cafe and bar to the flood, the county salvaged the community center to house a new bar. Last week, Renville County commissioners met in park board session to talk about building a new structure for a restaurant.

Commissioner Joe Genareo of Mohall said Friday that the board is hesitating to see what future flood protection might look like. If Lake Darling Dam is enlarged to hold back more water, that water would flood and eliminate Mouse River Park, he said. If the park board proceeds with a restaurant, though, there is grant money available to assist with the cost, he said.

Roger Sauer, a member of the Renville County Water Resource District board, spoke to tour participants about efforts in the 1970s to create a flood control project. One plan for a proposed Burlington Dam particularly generated controversy and a backlash against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and urban interests in Minot. Rural residents throughout the valley rallied against the dam, which would have wiped out many rural acres, including Mouse River Park, to protect Minot.

That plan was replaced with a project that added flood storage to Canadian dams and brought protection for Minot of 5,000 cubic feet per second of river flow. That proved to be inadequate when more than 27,000 cfs poured into the city in June 2011.

Sauer noted the difficulty in developing a new flood control project today that will serve everybody’s interests throughout the basin.

“There’s not going to be a 100 percent cure for flooding in the basin,” he said, but added, “We can reduce the troubles.”

A proposed $820 million project from Burlington to Velva includes 21.6 miles of levee, 2.8 miles of flood wall, 30 transportation closures and 33 pump stations. The Minot portion accounts for $543 million of the cost. Talk of revising the operations of Canada’s Rafferty and Alameda dams also are occurring through the International Souris River Board, which met in Estevan, Sask., Thursday.

Engineers are working on an additional flood protection plan for other stretches of the Souris River, which enters the state near Sherwood and returns to Canada near Westhope. The most problematic area exists near Towner, where the flat plain has experienced significant flooding three times since 2009, including this year.

The basinwide flood protection project being developed would protect to water levels of 2011.

“The amount of water we saw in 2011 was absolutely unprecedented,” Ackerman said. The 1.6 million acre feet of water in 2011 compared to 600,000 acre feet of water that stood as the previous recent record in 1976. An acre foot represents water a foot deep across an acre of land.

Tour participants also visited Lake Darling Dam to see the flood protection efforts in place there. The dam was releasing 200 cfs on Thursday, which compares to 28,000 cfs that was released in June 2011 because there wasn’t enough storage for the amount of water coming into the river system.

“I was surprised at how this structure and everything downtstream handled that high flow,” said Tom Pabian, manager of Upper Souris Wildlife Refuge.

Debris flowed through the dam without mishap. High flows can cause havoc, and Pabian said there was some disruption of riprap and boulders.

The dam is built to handle more water than it saw in 2011. It is capable of releasing up to 60,000 cfs, which could drain the 10,000 surface acres of lake in 24 hours, Pabian said.

Safety engineers will arrive Tuesday to conduct a major inspection of the dam as part of an exercise that occurs every three years. Less extensive inspections are conducted annually.

Originally built in the 1930s to supply water to the J. Clark Salyer Refuge, Lake Darling Dam added flood control to its mission in the 1970s. Construction of the current five-gate structure and embankment was completed in 1997.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the dam for wildlife purposes unless the region faces a one-in-10 year flood event. Then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assumes management.

Along with the dam, the tour included stops at the Minot Water Treatment Plant and North Dakota State Fair.

Fair manager Renae Korslien spoke about the flood fight there in 2011.

“It hit us hard. It hit us with a shock,” Korslien said.

Contractors tore up the racetrack for dirt to dike the year-old grandstand and hauled in more dirt to erect a 14-foot dike around the State Fair Center to keep out 12 feet of water. Staff then kept a 24-hour vigil to stay ahead of water seepage that tried to sneak in everywhere, including through phone lines.

A major fairgrounds cleanup was required in the aftermath, but by 2012, a record number of fair-goers were treated to little sign of the previous year’s damage.

Korslien noted extensive repairs have been required, though. All the outdoor electrical equipment had to be replaced and the asphalt repaired from damage created by the heavy equipment used to build the dikes.