Expected near-record temperatures and rapid snow melt are increasing the risk of high water by week’s end at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camps — and state officials are worried time is running out to prevent contamination of the rivers there.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maj. French Pope toured the Oceti Sakowin main protest camp Tuesday to assess the situation and determine what additional resources will be needed to complete the cleanup, started by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, camp residents and volunteers on Jan. 31.
The camp is on corps land and remains occupied by 300 to 400 people in yurts, teepees, fortified tents and other structures. Much of the camp area has been cleared out, with thousands of tons of material hauled to the landfill in the past two weeks.
Gov. Doug Burgum said the corps’ assessment is crucial to accelerating the cleanup before garbage, vehicles, structures and human waste wash into the Cannonball and Missouri rivers.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” Burgum said.
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The National Weather Service reports that people on the Cannonball, Knife and Heart rivers’ watersheds should watch for rising water over the next several days.
Dave Glatt, state Department of Health environmental chief, said cleanup efforts will have to be doubled and any protesters at the camp who refuse to move are potentially worsening a bad situation for people who depend on the water.
“As long as we have frozen ground and melting snow, the water is going to continue to rise in the camps,” Glatt said.
The weather service and the U.S. Geological Survey will install a new stream gauge on the Cannonball River near the camp Wednesday to closely monitor river heights in the area.
“That area, by nature, is prone to flooding. The Cannonball River and the Cantapeta Creek, along with the Missouri River, all come together in the area of the protest camp, which is sitting down in the floodplain,” said state engineer Garland Eberle with the State Water Commission. “We’ve historically seen ice jamming which causes a backup of flood water. If you’re really trying to protect the river, it is imperative we get that stuff cleaned up before we see a flood.”