In response to public concern about increased severe flooding, the International Joint Commission is asking the U.S. and Canadian governments to fund a $2.14 million study on river management and improved flood protection in the Souris River Basin.
Public meetings were held earlier this year on three alternative study scopes, ranging in cost from just over $1 million to $2.14 million. Determining that the best alternative is the optimal study, the IJC has sent letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, recommending funding of that study.
The study would evaluate alternative regulation methods to those listed in Annex A to the 1989 Canada-United States Agreement for Water Supply and Flood Control in the Souris River Basin. Although the most costly alternative, the study plan being recommended also is the most comprehensive.
"Our commission feels that it is important to look at more than just updating the operating rules under the 1989 agreement," said Frank Bevacqua, public information officer for the commission in Washington, D.C. "It's important to also look at other measures that could be taken in the basin to reduce flooding impacts."
Unprecedented flooding of the Souris River in 2011 prompted the IJC's International Souris River Board, which oversees flood operation and the apportionment of river flows, to establish the Souris River Basin Task Force in February 2012 to develop study options.
The option recommended by the task force and selected by the IJC would examine both the 1989 International Agreement and its operating rules to allow for new flood control provisions. Cost would be shared equally by the U.S. and Canadian governments, and the study would take two years to complete.
Bevacqua said the next step is for the governments decide whether to cooperate on a study and make funding available. It is uncertain how long it might be for those decisions to be made.
The more comprehensive study has the benefit of a 20-year shelf life, compared to a 10-year shelf life of a more basic study.
"Certainly, we want to have something that's going to be a long-term plan, and we think this is going to be the best plan," Minot city manager David Waind said of the city's support of the IJC's decision. "Hopefully, in this round of improvements in the system, it can be done in a way that has the most positive impact and the least negative impacts for everyone."
Vern Kongslie, Towner-area resident and former McHenry County commissioner, said he supports the study but believes there needs to be action in the interim.
"We need to see something done because you can't keep storing the water behind the Canadian dams and Lake Darling and release it at a prolonged rate. That's killing us agriculturally. It's also damaging our infrastructure," he said of downstream interests.