Even though North Dakota remains engulfed in winter, it is time to think spring. At least in terms of flood insurance. North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm says now is the time for anyone concerned about spring flooding to think about purchasing flood insurance.
"There is a 30-day waiting period before a flood insurance policy kicks in," Hamm said. "So it is critical that people don't wait until it's too late. Check into it now."
Flood insurance is offered and underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program. Several insurance companies in North Dakota write and service flood policies through the NFIP. Homeowners' insurance policies do not cover flooding.
"We haven't had a lot of people questioning about flood insurance so far," said Jennifer Hildre, American Family Insurance in Minot. "But it's always time in the spring of the year. It's always a good idea to protect yourself from an insurance standpoint, but there's pro's and con's to flood insurance. Your insurance agent can help answer those questions."
Early outlooks from the National Weather Service say major flooding is probable for many rivers and tributaries across the state once the spring melt gets under way. Part of that projection in the knowledge that throughout many of the state's drainages soil moisture content is well above normal, concealed under several inches of snow.
"My thought is, if you are going to do anything, do it by March first," advises Jim Mostad, Nodak Mutual Insurance of Minot. "Don't wait until after that. I certainly can't discourage people who are somewhat prone to flooding situations. Who knows what is going to happen? We do know the basin is full of water."
It is up to each property owner to evaulate their own situation and to decide whether or not to purchase flood insurance. Because of the 30-day waiting period, timing of the insurance purchase is vital. A property owner who waits too long runs the risk of a spring flood arriving before they are eligible for flood insurance benefits.
Evaluating the potential risks for spring flooding is not a perfect science, but several agencies endeavor to project what may occur. Key factors that can be measured include soil moisture content, the amount of water in the snowpack and the amount of expected runoff. What cannot be predicted ahead of the spring melt are two other important items temperature and precipitation. A sudden warm spell followed by spring rains could dramatically alter early runoff predictions.
What is known today is that the Souris River Basin, in Canada and in North Dakota, has received ample snowfall this winter on top of ground that was saturated heading into freeze-up. In southern Saskatchewan, where the Souris River originates, rainfall last year was 200 percent of normal in many areas. Additionally, some of the heaviest snow cover in southern Saskatchewan is situated over the Souris River and Moose Mountain Creek drainages. Moose Mountain Creek joins the Souris above the Canadian border.
Three dams constitute the primary flood protection for the Souris. All three have been releasing water this winter due to high levels heading into last fall. In an unprecedented move, the Saskatchwan Water Authority began releasing water from Rafferty Reservoir near Estevan, Sask., on Jan. 10. It marked the first winter release of water since Rafferty was constructed in 1992.
According to the Saskatchewan Water Authority the releases from Rafferty are small but "necessary for spring flood protection and to meet the water level requirements specified in the International Agreement on Water Supply and Flood Control in the Souris River Basin with the United States."
In December the Saskatchewan Water Authority began releases from Alameda Reservoir near Oxbow, Sask. Winter releases from that impoundment are rare but thought necessary to reduce the level in the reservoir prior to spring runoff. In an advisory issued last December Sask. Water Authority said, "Above-normal precipitation during this past summer and fall has left much of the eastern portion of Saskatchewan saturated. Rivers and creeks are flowing at rates well above normal for this time of year and some streams, which are normally dry in the fall, are flowing. It is anticipated that these flows will continue throughout the winter."
The third dam on the system, Lake Darling Dam located northwest of Minot, was actually rising for a time this past winter due to inflow in the Souris from Canada. The rise came despite releases from Lake Darling that began last fall and continue at a rate of 150-200 cubic feet per second today, making it a very rare winter in which the Souris has experienced continual flow throughout the system.
Lake Darling stood at 1595.8 feet this week, just under the normal winter operating level of 1596 feet. However, releases through the dam are expected to continue due to continual inflow at Lake Darling's upper end.
Officials at all three impoundments said they believe there is ample storage in the system as warmer spring weather approaches. A meeting of river interests from both sides of the border is scheduled for late February in Regina, Sask. Conditions along the Souris River Basin will be discussed and analyzed at that time and the first spring melt prognostications will follow.