It’s not a good summer for river rats or those just wanting to spend time on the water on the weekends. The high Missouri River levels are creating havoc with riverbanks and boat ramps. Marinas are having a difficult time with the high water.
The river always has had a mind of its own. Despite efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control it, the river can be unpredictable. The public’s trust level of the corps fell during the 2011 floods and the corps is still greeted with skepticism.
As much as we try, it’s impossible to manage nature. There wasn’t much we could do during last year’s drought other than endure it.
The corps has increased water releases from the Garrison Dam from 52,000 cubic feet per second to 60,000 cfs. And now the river is faster and stronger, carrying large debris. Burleigh and Morton officials have asked boaters to take sensible precautions such as wearing life jackets and having debris spotters on boats.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has put in place an "idle only restriction" effective within 200 feet of the shoreline to help reduce the impact of soil erosion. Violators of the idle only rule face a fee of $200.
Marinas have been forced to extend docks to deal with the high water. Many boat ramps in the area are closed.
North Dakota summers aren’t that long so it’s understandable why people have the urge to get on the water even when it’s high. However, we have to take into consideration landowners who are worried about erosion from the high water and wakes. On the Missouri, the north boundary of the idle rule is the power lines about 1,000 feet south of Wilton's Steckel boat ramp, about 23 river miles north of Bismarck. The southern boundary is MacLean Bottoms Wildlife Management Area boat ramp, about 19 miles south of Bismarck. The emergency rule on the Heart River starts at the confluence of the Heart and Missouri south of Mandan and extends upstream to the N.D. Highway 6 bridge.
The success of the rule depends on compliance by the public. "If the public responds well and follows the rules, we'll probably be OK. If not, we might need to take further action," Morton County Commission Chairman Bruce Strinden said.
No one knows how long the high water will last. We do know it’s essential everyone follow the emergency. Anyone swimming, fishing or involved in other water activities must use extra caution. The river can be tricky and there’s no such thing as being too careful. We need to listen to state Game and Fish, Burleigh and Morton officials. Summer is for fun and no lives should be lost trying to enjoy ourselves.