Low flow to no flow

Where has all the water gone?

There’s plenty of bank visible on rivers and streams, especially in north-central North Dakota. Flows are virtually non-existent in most drainages and water levels have declined accordingly. The result is one of the lowest flow rates seen in several years.

Late season snowfall gave hope that rivers and streams would be replenished with snowmelt runoff. When the melt came the runoff was very brief, ranging from a few hours to a few days, and there wasn’t much water that made it to the bottom of the drainages.

“We had a fair amount of snow,” said Allen Schlag, National Weather Service hydrologist in Bismarck. “The moisture disappeared into the soil this spring. That’s indicated by low stream flow.”

Other factors, including evaporation, contributed to the limited runoff from snowmelt this year but, no matter the reasons, the result is that rivers and streams are barely flowing. Some are not flowing at all and, without significant rainfall in the near future, the situation will only get worse.

Flow in the Souris River through Minot is at least partially dependent upon water being released through Lake Darling Dam. However, with near record low inflow and the reservoir still below its normal summer operating level, no water has been released for several days. In other words, drought management measures are already in effect.

“The little rain we’ve had is welcome but it’s not a drought buster,” said Schlag. “We’re still in kind of a holding pattern as to where the drought is going to go.”

Some examples for comparison purposes show that the Souris River at Sherwood normally flows at 446 cubic feet per second at this time of year. Tuesday’s flow was a mere 17.8 cfs. Long Creek at Noonan, which is the primary water source for Boundary Reservior in Saskatchewan,was moving at a scant 6.68 cfs Tuesday. That compares to the long-term average of 74 cfs.

The Souris River at Baker’s Bridge, the Foxholm gauge station, registered 4.13 cfs Tuesday. That’s far below the average of 498 cfs for the same date. The Boy Scout Bridge reading on the Souris above Minot was 15.9 cfs Tuesday with a long-term average for the date of 568 cfs. The numbers are similar for other reporting points along the Souris in what is shaping up to be one of the driest period of stream flows in the region in recent memory. However, says Schlag, there the historical comparisons end. At least for now.

“It’s not as uncommon as a person would like to think,” said Schlag. “These kinds of springs where the water disappears into the ground are not entirely uncommon.”

But they are attention getters. Low flows in rivers and streams are indicators of dry conditions on the landscape and, coming on the heels of last year’s drought conditions that were prevalent over nearly all of western North Dakota, are deserving of scrutiny. Low and stagnant water can cause problems with water supply, watering the Souris Valley Golf Course is an example, and with dissolved oxygen necessary to sustain life in river environments.

Tuesday cfs and average for date

Long Creek, Noonan – 6.68, Ave. 74.0

Souris River, Sherwood – 17.8, Ave. 446

Souris River, Foxholm – 4.13, Ave. 498

Des Lacs River, Foxholm – 11.9, Ave. 68.0

Souris River, Minot -15.9, Ave. 568

Wintering River, Karlsuhe – 9.61, Ave. 3.0

Willow Creek, Willow City – 48.7, Ave. 167

Deep River, Upham – 0.09, Ave. 51.0

Souris River, Westhope – 63.9, Ave. 1,110