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BISMARCK, N.D. _ Despite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ forecast that the risk of flooding along the upper Missouri River Basin is minimal this spring, some groups want stepped up releases through Garrison Dam to begin as soon as possible.

The corps hosted a public meeting in Bismarck on Wednesday night on plans for reservoir management in 2014, one of five such meetings conducted along river cities from Missouri to Montana.

Col. Bill Leady, deputy commander for the corps’ northwest division, said he believes there is enough storage in the system to handle runoff this spring.

The corps’ April 1 runoff forecast was for 32 million acre-feet of water to enter the system through July.

He said average runoff is about 26 million acre-feet. An acre-foot of water is roughly the size of a football field covered with a foot of water.

Still, the North Dakota State Water Commission and other groups urged the corps to crank up releases sooner rather than later to avoid a repeat of 2011 flooding.

According to the corps, current reservoir levels are well below 2011 levels; Fort Peck is 14.5 feet lower, Lake Sakakawea is 5.2 feet lower and Lake Oahe 10.4 feet lower.

Bruce Engelhardt of the State Water Commission’s water development division, said conditions in the upper basin have been “more volatile” in recent decade.

Engelhardt said releases can be increased while still maintaining balance on the upper three reservoirs — Fort Peck, Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe — which contain about 90 percent of the water storage for the basin.

“Constant vigilance must be maintained,” he said, to avoid flooding like in 2011.

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Mountain snowpack above Fort Peck is 133 percent of normal and 139 percent of normal between Fort Peck and Garrison.

Jody Farhat, water management chief for the corps, said plans are to step up releases through Garrison Dam from the current 18,000 cubic feet per second to 24,000 cfs by April 15 and 25,000 cfs by the end of the month.

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Farhat said May average releases should be around 27,000 cfs and 30,000 cfs for June.

She said that would mean a 2-3 foot increase in the level of the Missouri River through Bismarck and Mandan.

Wade Bachmeier of the Morton Count Water Resource Board, said increased releases should begin sooner to avoid any concerns. “Why wouldn’t we exercise some prudence?” he asked.

Farhat said based on the corps’ models, Lake Sakakawea will rise to an elevation of 1,839 feet under its lower model, 1,847.9 feet under its basic model and to 1,852 feet under its upper model.

Sakakawea is now at an elevation of about 1,836 feet.

Lake Oahe, was is at a current elevation of 1,605 feet and could rise 10 feet under the high model.

Allen Schlag, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said although the snow is gone from the Plains, the Yellowstone River near Williston likely will see some flooding from mountain snowpack runoff.

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Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or brian.gehring@bismarcktribune.com.

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