In a year when record flows at several points along the Souris River continue to wash away, another dubious standard was set Friday. The release gates at Lake Darling Dam were opened to 6,000 cubic feet per second. Prior to this spring the release gates have never before been opened even as much as 5,000 cfs.
The move was made at the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the face of the reservoir approaching maximum elevation and a strong weather system which the National Weather Service says is capable of dumping 1 1/2 to 3 inches of rain throughout the Souris River Basin. It is hoped the increased flows coming down the Souris from Lake Darling will pass before the Souris is adversely impacted by a rainfall driven rise from several drainages, most notable of which is the Des Lacs River.
It amounts to a gamble that all will synchronize together at a time when both the river and the tension of valley residents remains high. Roland Hamberg, Corps of Engineers, explained the strategy during a Friday afternoon press conference. However, Hamberg noted, the situation remains very precarious.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Workers were busy in the rain Friday, deploying Hesco barriers along Fourth Avenue Northeast from the Third Street Viaduct to near Home Sweet Home. In the background is the St. Anne’s Bridge. The Hescos were to be filled with sand as a defense against an expected rise in the Souris River.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • This view looking north from Fourth Avenue Northeast shows the level of the Souris River at noon Friday as it flows underneath a railroad bridge. Up to two feet more water is expected in the Souris in the coming days. Overhead is the Third Street Viaduct.
"In a few days Lake Darling will be filled to capacity at 1,601," stated Hamberg. "It's like the perfect storm or worst case scenario becoming a reality. Every day we're all recomputing models, crunching the numbers and trying to make this work. Storage in Lake Darling is golden."
When asked when the Corps expects Lake Darling storage to reach capacity, Hamberg replied, "It should fill on the 28th."
Hamberg reiterated that the situation will be monitored very closely, particulary with respect to the amount of rainfall. How much rains fall and how much new water makes its way into the system is still an unknown.
"The reservoirs on the Souris are full, or near full," explained Hamberg. "It's a dilemma trying to manage this."
The release of 6,000 cfs began at 1 p.m. Friday and was to remain at that rate for 24 hours. Flow time from Lake Darling Dam to Minot is approximately 48 hours. A news release issued by the Corps Friday stated that the current operating plan called for decreasing the outflow from Lake Darling to 4,700 cfs by Tuesday. Lake Darling was at 1,598.19 feet and rising late Friday. Maximum elevation there is slightly over 1,601 feet.
According to the release, "Flows through Minot will be about 6,500 to 7,000 cfs, depending upon rainfall totals. Discharges out of Lake Darling Dam will remain high for the next two weeks."
A flow of 7,000 cfs is considered very near the limit of what the current diking system in Minot can tolerate. According to Minot Public Works Director Alan Walter, 7,000 cfs would leave about one foot of freeboard in the city. Furthermore, said Walter at Friday's press conference, "There's a half-dozen spots in the city that would need to be sandbagged to handle 8,000 cfs. If they tell us we'll reach 8,000, we'll sandbag."
Walter added that if the flow should reach 9,000 cfs, Minot would not have enough time to raise the dikes to keep water out of the city. However, as of late Friday afternoon, the NWS was predicting the maximum flow through Minot to be 6,680 cfs. That number could increase or decrease, depending upon how much rain falls during the current system or if adjustments are made to the release rate at Lake Darling.
City workers were busy Friday, checking low areas near the river. A row of Hesco barriers was erected along Fourth Avenue Northeast under the Third Street Viaduct west toward Broadway. A portion of the Hescos replaced a sandbag barrier that previously had been protecting against the rising Souris.
Jerome Gruenberg, Burlington mayor and Ward County commissioner, explained Burlington's response to the latest flood threat during Friday's press conference. According to the NWS the Des Lacs is poised to raise 7 feet if predicted rainfall totals come to fruition. The Des Lacs flows into Burlington from the west and merges with the Souris on Burlington's east side.
"We have some issues in Burlington," said Gruenberg, "But we're fairly confident the water will stay in the river channel. We're pretty certain the Colton Avenue bridge will have to be sandbagged. It looks like County Road 8 at Bakers Bridge and County 17 at the Boy Scout Bridge could be closed."
"If we get the 7,000 they're saying now, we're gonna' be okay," added Walter.