History and heartbreak: A sad day at Garrison Dam as spillway gates open

2011-06-01T23:30:00Z 2013-03-15T11:03:40Z History and heartbreak: A sad day at Garrison Dam as spillway gates openBy LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
June 01, 2011 11:30 pm  • 

GARRISON DAM - When the Garrison Dam spillway gates opened Wednesday to release flood water for the first time ever, fish rocketed out in the sudden gush of water.

They slapped down on the concrete spillway apron, where the released water was too shallow for them to be submerged.

They flopped, desperate for water to stay alive.

It was a pathetic sight. One woman turned away saying, "I can't watch this."

There were no "Hurrahs!" when the cold green water chuted through shortly before 8 a.m., at first a relatively small trickle at 7,500 cubic feet per second from seven gates. That will increase to 30,000 cfs when all 28 gates are open by Thursday night.

The release from the spillway will be gradually ratcheted up in days and weeks to come until the full release from dam systems reaches 150,000 cfs.

Behind it, the lake will continue to rise almost another 2 feet, water on both ends where it has never been before.

The sounds and sight of the spillway gates going up and water pouring through was fascinating and sobering.

The water from a bulging Lake Sakakawea has to go. But it will only mean a river of tears downstream in the Missouri River, where thousands can only watch it come in the highest, swiftest current in dam history.

"It's heartbreaking," said Lloyd Seilinger, of Pick City, who with several dozen folks, lined up alongside the spillway to watch history happen. "It makes me sad. Sad, sad."

He has family downstream in Bismarck-Mandan, where one has already abandoned their home and another is fighting to save his.

Donita Hauf, of Max, came with her husband and their son to witness the event.

"It's pretty crazy," she said. "It's too bad that there has to be so many people affected by this."

Bryon Zacher, of Parshall, said it was too wet to farm, so he and his sons and two South African farm helpers drove down to watch, too.

"It's a bad deal. This is nature, not what the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) did," Zacher said.

Lake resource manager Linda Phelps answered questions and handed out a few brochures, which explain the spillway structure and say, "To date, the spillway has never been used to release flood waters."

That was true for 57 years. Now, the brochures stand corrected.

"What a sight. It's historic, but when you think of what it will do all the way to (the state of) Missouri ..." Phelps said.

She said the decision to open the gates seven at a time and step up the initial release "little by little" over two days was wise. It'll give time for water to scour through the spillway pond and out through the pilot channel to the river, a half-mile off.

Within 45 minutes, the spillway pond was overflowing to the east and water was coursing down the channel, a distant ribbon of water, to the river, to Bismarck-Mandan and beyond.

The release is uncharted territory for the corps, which closed off public camping and other facilities below the dam.

"We've got to release this water to protect the dam," Phelps said. "I don't think people realize it would totally divide the country, destroying the railroads and interstates," if the dam ever failed, she said.

Dale Evenson, the dam's maintenance and operation supervisor, watched workers suspended on catwalks release the gate mechanisms one by one. One gate mechanism didn't function and will have to be repaired.

Evenson answered a buzz of media questions and turned to watch a sight as unique to him as anyone. He's watched when the gates are periodically "cracked" for maintenance, but the water is blocked back for those exercises. To see a froth of white water pour out of the gate openings, fill the spillway floor and cascade in a waterfall to the stilling pond below, well, that was one for the books and the brochures.

"It's not a good feeling to release water into a system that's already flooding, but these are the dynamics of what we've been dealt," he said.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or lauren@westriv.com.)

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(32) Comments

  1. kahl1983
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    kahl1983 - June 07, 2011 5:56 am
    Liberals are the scourge of our society... the plague if you will.
  2. DedicatedMom
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    DedicatedMom - June 04, 2011 11:34 pm
    I think everyone has a right to comment. Everyone has a right to their opinion. But let it be something substantial. Preaching should be left to people that ask for it, like at church.
  3. BoMMeR
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    BoMMeR - June 03, 2011 11:46 pm
    GusGutts said: "There definitely needs to be an investigation. We could have at least prepared earlier. The flood protection could have been extended north and south.There is nothing "natural" about this flood event."

    you idiot. did you listen to 1 word of this mornings presser? both Ft. Peck and Lake Sakakawea had DOUBLE the inflow in the month of May....BEFORE THE SNOW EVEN BEGAN TO MELT. It's the record rain fall in MT in MAY that we are seeing right now. The snow hasnt even begun to melt yet. You are an idiot. Go back to your meth pipe and get off the computer
  4. iluvnd
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    iluvnd - June 03, 2011 9:15 pm
    It is sad the gates had to be opened. Wouldn't it be a lot sadder if the gates were not opened and the dam broke?
  5. Reason
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    Reason - June 03, 2011 6:10 pm
    Bismarckians are government boot lickers and apologists. There will be no compensation, nor will there be an investigation. These people would dive off the Expressway bridge if they were asked to do so.
  6. Jack A
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    Jack A - June 03, 2011 2:25 pm
    There won't be an investigation because this is NOT Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Corporation, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma.........this is Big Government, and there is never any kind of investigation of them.
  7. GusGutts
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    GusGutts - June 03, 2011 5:57 am
    There definitely needs to be an investigation. We could have at least prepared earlier. The flood protection could have been extended north and south.

    There is nothing "natural" about this flood event.
  8. GusGutts
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    GusGutts - June 03, 2011 5:54 am
    Was ND sacrificed to protect "more valuable" Mississippi River property? Read the following article... http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/43241027/ns/weather/. If the Corp sacrificed our area, they owe impacted homeowners compensation.

    After all... The Corp has to be pretty "intelligent". They knew the snow pack was incredibly heavy.

    They held back the releases for a reason.
  9. BoMMeR
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    BoMMeR - June 03, 2011 5:52 am
    Hey, maybe it's The Talibans/al Qaeda's fault. They must be avenging the death of Osama bin Laden!!!
  10. bladerunner
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    bladerunner - June 02, 2011 9:28 pm
    Rover, are you trying to drive us all to the right. I donated twice to President Obama. Still in the same wars. Still have prisoners in Cuba. What has your party done? Spent alot of money. Not a good record and I will never donate another dime to Obama.
  11. just a hick
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    just a hick - June 02, 2011 5:41 pm
    Independent Thinker said: "Just a hick. The info for 1952 has been deleted from the USGS web site. The highest CFS recorded at Omaha was less than 400,000 CFS. That would mean it would have been less that 400,000 at Bismarck. I believe that the 500,000 you found using Google is a misprint. "


    I provided the link to the USGS, did you check it out?
  12. Independent Thinker
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    Independent Thinker - June 02, 2011 5:17 pm
    Just a hick. The info for 1952 has been deleted from the USGS web site. The highest CFS recorded at Omaha was less than 400,000 CFS. That would mean it would have been less that 400,000 at Bismarck. I believe that the 500,000 you found using Google is a misprint.
  13. just a hick
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    just a hick - June 02, 2011 5:08 pm
    MarshaK said: BR>No one is looking to "stir people up." In any crisis, the time comes to face reality and look down the road. The government cannot and will not tell each individual whether his or her home will exist or be livable and how the situation will exist for each person. "


    I was responding to Independent Thinker comparing this years flow to 1952, it won't be close. You are correct no one, including the government knows for sure what will happen along the river, they have admitted that. IMO there will be houses and property lost. That is the risk one takes when you live on a river. But life is about risks, sometimes you lose, most of the time you win. Good luck the people living along the river.
  14. MarshaK
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    MarshaK - June 02, 2011 4:35 pm
    This quote comes directly from Mark Armstrong's facebook (which anyone can view)and is in regard to what he observed on his river kayak trip today:

    [Ho]me protection already failing on the Bismarck side from Kniefel to Merriweathers. And to think double the water coming.

    No one is looking to "stir people up." In any crisis, the time comes to face reality and look down the road. The government cannot and will not tell each individual whether his or her home will exist or be livable and how the situation will exist for each person.
  15. just a hick
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    just a hick - June 02, 2011 4:15 pm
    Independent thinker, I don't know where you get your information but according to the USGS "Before the construction of Garrison Dam, the maximum peak streamflow measured at Bismarck was 500,000 cubic feet per second on April 6, 1952." http://nd.water.usgs.gov/canoeing/missouri/index.html

    Please try and be accurate with you information. You are getting people stirred up for no reason.
  16. rover27
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    rover27 - June 02, 2011 4:07 pm
    ing1947 said: "Back in the 70's the big prediction from the left wingers was the ice age is coming back, Time Magazine had big pictures of glaciers and the like. Everyone was gonna freeze to death under a mile of ice. Well now 40 years later there was no ice age, but now the left tells us were gonna fry like chicken legs in a pan on a stove because of global warming. Maybe 20 years from now they'll go back to saying were all gonna die in the ice age thats coming. You just never know from one year to the next how all of mankind is gonna die, either by freezing or cooking to death. Once they decide for sure how the end is coming they will let us all know again you can count on that."

    Another global warming denier. Why do you deny science? Is it because the Republican Party is so sold out to the oil, gas, and coal industry that it's making science a political issue? I was a 6th Grade teacher until I retired a few years back. We taught, through our textbooks, about the "Greenhouse Affect". Meaning that burning of fossil fuels was causing a blanket in the atmosphere that was trapping the carbon wastes from these fossil fuels. Today, this would be called Global Warming or Climate Change. We learned about various alternative energies and their advantages and disadvantages. We learned that fossil fuels are non-renewable and our worldwide sources are shrinking. We learned that the U.S. has 4% of the world's population, but uses 25% of the world's fossil fuels. We concluded that this was unsustainable. Both financially and due to its affects on our planet. We also learned that we didn't know exactly what affects global warming would have in the early stages, but that extreme weather conditions would probably be one of them.

    And less than 10 years ago, this was all considered non-controversial. Until we made some small attempts to do something about it. Then Big Oil and Big Coal, along with their political arm, the Republican Party, began a campaign to try and discredit the science and confuse the American people. And make it a political issue. Disgusting and despicable. I expect that from Corporate America. I'd hoped a political party would rise above it.

  17. Independent Thinker
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    Independent Thinker - June 02, 2011 3:40 pm
    BabyT. During the flood of 1952 the flow was 207,000 CFS and the flood stage was 27.5. If you take the CFS and divide by 10,000 then add 6.8 you get to 27.5. Try that formula with the current flow thru bismarck and see how close you are to the actual gauge level. MarshaK is a lot closer to the truth than I want to think about.
  18. MarshaK
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    MarshaK - June 02, 2011 2:54 pm
    One doesn't need to be an engineer to see what happened this spring. The corps was planning for snowpack melt and then the rains came. My point is: The only thing the corps can plan for is snowpack melt, of which there is a lot yet to come. Rain is another story. The city/county can do so much diking and after that, it's a wait and see and guessing game, and a lot is being left to chance. How can anyone definitively say that 150K cfs will be the end of it?

    If I lived in an area in which there has been no government assistance with sandbagging or diking, I would take that as a very good sign the reason is they believe it would be a fruitless effort. They can't tell you to stop sandbagging, but just because they don't tell you to stop does not in any way mean your house can be sandbagged to a point it will have any kind of protection.

    There's also a big difference in river elevations up and down the channel itself.

    I would not wait for "official word" to line up alternative living quarters.
  19. ShameShame
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    ShameShame - June 02, 2011 2:22 pm
    Does anyone know if the spillway gates are open yet and how many are and how much is being let out? Also, TBaby why haven't you answered me yet. I waiting!!!
  20. BabyT
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    BabyT - June 02, 2011 1:41 pm
    MarshaK said: "Here's what makes me sad. The city/county/corps know that what's coming (150K cfs) is not the end of releases. The Thing No One's Talking About is over the next few weeks, it's in all likelihood going to get to 200K cfs. "

    Have to love armchair engineers, the internet is full of experts! Please don't spread rumors. yes, that may happen, but at least as of now, there has been no official word.

    So, dam engineer, did you know that the relationship between water level and release rate is roughly logarithmic? As an example, it 20k cfs to go from 13 feet river level to 14 feet, but its going to take roughly twice that go up another foot of river level. End result is that there won't actually be a huge different between 200k and 150k, IF that time does come.

  21. MarshaK
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    MarshaK - June 02, 2011 1:01 pm
    Here's what makes me sad. The city/county/corps know that what's coming (150K cfs) is not the end of releases. The Thing No One's Talking About is over the next few weeks, it's in all likelihood going to get to 200K cfs. Maybe more. The Powers That Be know it; they know they can't protect from it, but they see their job as making it look like We're Going to Beat This by building dikes and sandbagging and setting up some shelters for evacuees. The leaders know if they tell people their house is toast, they're admitting defeat, and they don't want to publicly do that. Instead, they will adjust maps every time there's a projected release increase and react accordingly, rather than taking on a full-on proactive stance.

    The rising cfs will pretty much bury south Bismarck, and what doesn't get buried is going to flood from the ground up. It will erode banks to where land, not to mention the house that was on it, will go downstream.

    No one's telling people, "Look. Forget saving your house. You better be lining up a place to live for a good six months; maybe longer. FEMA is not going to swoop in and save you. Did you pay lear anything from Hurricane Katrina? This is going to be that. Assuming your house can be repaired, how long is it going to take you to find the contractors needed to do it? Winter will come, and you better be ready. The supply of houses, motorhomes, campers and apartments is already decreasing, and prices are going to skyrocket."

    As an aside, the dam was made to produce electricity and control flooding. It was not erected to allow people to build houses on the riverbanks and bottoms.






  22. warmachine
    Report Abuse
    warmachine - June 02, 2011 11:47 am
    Mr. Dale Evenson....looks like it doesn't matter what you say or do....you're dam'ed if you do and dam'ed if you don't........ ;-)
  23. Namaste
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    Namaste - June 02, 2011 11:29 am
    Wonderful article on a not-so-wonderful situation, Lauren Donovan.
  24. ing1947
    Report Abuse
    ing1947 - June 02, 2011 9:51 am
    Back in the 70's the big prediction from the left wingers was the ice age is coming back, Time Magazine had big pictures of glaciers and the like. Everyone was gonna freeze to death under a mile of ice. Well now 40 years later there was no ice age, but now the left tells us were gonna fry like chicken legs in a pan on a stove because of global warming. Maybe 20 years from now they'll go back to saying were all gonna die in the ice age thats coming. You just never know from one year to the next how all of mankind is gonna die, either by freezing or cooking to death. Once they decide for sure how the end is coming they will let us all know again you can count on that.
  25. ToxicAvenger
    Report Abuse
    ToxicAvenger - June 02, 2011 8:48 am
    I love hearing these mental defectives blame this on global warming. 5 years ago these same idiots were blaming global warming because the lake was empty.
  26. Kimberly
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    Kimberly - June 02, 2011 6:57 am
    I have always said it, because it is what I have seen to be true. The water will always win. After living a long time in Fargo, watching Devils Lake, and now being here along the Missouri, it just backs up my assertion. All we can do as humans is adapt to it and get out of the way. Moving water is one of the most powerful things on the planet.

    Please don't forget to donate to our local Red Cross/Salvation Army if you can, especially after preparedness activites are over. There will be (and already are) many families displaced that need aid. Good luck.
  27. docholliday1874
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    docholliday1874 - June 02, 2011 4:53 am
    It's time to flex your stiff necks & call in professional help. One simple prayer is the start: "God, the Father Almighty. Amen." You have everything to gain, an awful lot to lose.
  28. ditka14
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    ditka14 - June 02, 2011 12:10 am
    Byron Zacher said it best
  29. BoMMeR
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    BoMMeR - June 01, 2011 11:48 pm
    AndrewS said: "I witnessed this, and To See it open for the First time is Incredible. It is very Sad for the People who are fighting to save there homes. Just Today I was Sandbagging in Bismarck, and The Amounts of water are incredible! Even without the 7500 cf/s they are letting out at 7 gates, what will it be like at 28 gates? Friday they open a few up more! I Can't believe that this is 2011 and we can't even use the dams to control flooding. It IS the dam that is making the water go up. I do appreciate the fact that everything south of main would be flooded without it, but why is THE DAM, the same dam used to prevent flooding, being used to make flooding. Just last week, 75,000cf/s was scary! now 150,000f/s! This is out of control!!!"

    The dam is flood control...not flood prevention. And it also created many acres of farm land in the soil rich and flat land south of it. But I am amazed by how many of you blame this, that, and the other. but NEVER mention MOTHER NATURE! Give it rest will ya, go sandbag
  30. docholliday1874
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    docholliday1874 - June 01, 2011 11:45 pm
    Can it possibly hurt, a simple prayer: "God, the Father Almighty. Amen." As God inspired "if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be."
  31. Rusty
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    Rusty - June 01, 2011 8:10 pm
    Donovans first comments are about a few fish that may get hurt???? She should expect a call John Stossel.
  32. AndrewS
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    AndrewS - June 01, 2011 7:26 pm
    I witnessed this, and To See it open for the First time is Incredible. It is very Sad for the People who are fighting to save there homes. Just Today I was Sandbagging in Bismarck, and The Amounts of water are incredible! Even without the 7500 cf/s they are letting out at 7 gates, what will it be like at 28 gates? Friday they open a few up more! I Can't believe that this is 2011 and we can't even use the dams to control flooding. It IS the dam that is making the water go up. I do appreciate the fact that everything south of main would be flooded without it, but why is THE DAM, the same dam used to prevent flooding, being used to make flooding. Just last week, 75,000cf/s was scary! now 150,000f/s! This is out of control!!!
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