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John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, answers questions from the packed crowd during a public meeting dealing with the Missouri River and reservoir management at Bismarck State College on Tuesday night.

Runoff in the Missouri River Basin in 2019 could set a record, rivaling the historic max set in 2011, when major flooding hit the Bismarck-Mandan area.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel from the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division hosted a water management meeting Tuesday night in Bismarck that drew about 200 people. The meeting came as North Dakota farmers have grappled with record-setting rainfall and a historic early October blizzard that have ravaged the harvest reason.

An Oct. 1 Corps forecast projects 61 million acre feet of runoff in the basin this year, more than 2½ times the average of 25.3 million acre feet and the highest in 121 years of record keeping.

"If this is realized, it would equal what we saw in 2011," said Kevin Grode, team leader for reservoir regulation.

Flooding that year forced the evacuation of nearly 900 homes in Burleigh and Morton counties. At one point in June of that year, more than 1,200 National Guardsmen were fighting the flood in the metro area. The flood fight efforts lasted until late July, and the river stayed at flood stage until mid-August.

Burleigh County and Bismarck that year used nearly 11.3 million sandbags, and Mandan and Morton County more than 2.9 million, according to the state Department of Emergency Services.

Monthly runoff above Sioux City, Iowa, has skyrocketed above average since March, when an intense "bomb cyclone" struck Nebraska and South Dakota. Snow melting into runoff and above-average precipitation since May also have contributed to the record wetness.

September 2019 was the wettest on record for North Dakota, according to National Weather Service hydrologist Allen Schlag. August and September 2019 came within 1/20 of an inch of breaking the record for the same time period, set in 1900, he said.

"And quite honestly, when October is done shaking out, I already know we're well above normal for the month of October, so we're going to continue this wet cycle, so to speak, well into October," Schlag said. "When it's going to end, that's always the really tough question."

October runoff in the basin is estimated to be about three times the average. November and December are estimated to be twice the average, Grode said.

"This last year has been extremely wet. In some cases, record wet," he said. "We're seeing a tremendous amount of rainfall in our basin over the last 12 months."

North Dakota and the northern Great Plains have a slightly above-normal chance for above-normal precipitation this winter, according to Schlag.

"That's largely based on trends," he said.

The Corps took questions and comments from people in attendance, including Laura Ackerman, investigations section chief for the State Water Commission, who urged the Corps to remain in touch with state and local officials about flooding concerns, such as monitoring ice jams and winter releases from Garrison Dam.

"Given the saturated nature of the basin going into winter, we feel that basin monitoring and the resulting forecasting abilities will be of utmost importance for the winter and the spring," Ackerman said.

Mike Gunsch, chairman of the North Dakota Missouri River Advisory Council, urged the Corps to maintain communication about the basin's runoff and related risks.

"Understand the lack of information tends to feed rumors, and some are legitimized by how they are shared," Gunsch said.

Fred Rios, chairman of the Captains' Landing Township Board of Supervisors, said he'd like to see no-wake zones on the Missouri River and continuous flow until the river freezes. He hopes to avoid a scenario like 2011, when residents around Captains' Landing Township banded together to sandbag the small community on the river's western bank.

"I hope we don't see that at all," Rios told the Tribune.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter