Low water in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs as dry conditions continue
Conservation measures underway
That North Dakota is experiencing some very dry conditions, nearing historic levels, is something that has been developing in earnest since October of 2020. Evidence of just how dry much of Ward County and surrounding regions are can be found in a glance at water levels in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
In short, if rivers have any flow at all it is far below average, and lakes and reservoirs are low and in decline. The Souris River saw a brief rise starting April 14 when Lake Darling Dam began releasing 100 cubic feet of water per second into the Souris. It was enough to prompt flow over several small dams within the City of Minot.
However, the release was stopped this past Wednesday as the apportionment of water needed for downstream interests was met. The release was minimal due to the lack of snowmelt runoff or spring rainfall entering the Souris River system where water conservation measures are already underway.
Lake Darling is about two feet below its summer operating level with almost no flow in the Souris at the Sherwood crossing, the last measuring station before the Souris enters the north end of Lake Darling. On Thursday the flow at Sherwood was 24.3 cfs and dropping. The long-term average for the date at that location is 693 cfs.
Water released from Lake Darling had peaked at the Boy Scout Bridge on Minot’s west edge at approximately 100 cfs before dropped to 53 cfs at mid-day Thursday. The flow in the Souris at Verendrye reached 101 cfs Thursday, indicating the released water had made it to that point in the Souris on its journey to the Eaton Irrigation Project at Towner.
Long Creek, which flows down from Saskatchewan, into North Dakota, and back into Saskatchewan near Estevan had zero flow Thursday versus a long-term average of 225 cfs. In the high water year of 2011 Long Creek easily exceeded 5,000 cfs where it entered Boundary Reservoir on the Canadian side of the border.
Other river flows are equally telling of the prevailing dry conditions. The Des Lacs River at Foxholm was moving a mere 6.25 cfs Thursday, the Wintering River at Karlsruhe less than 5 cfs, and Willow Creek, a large tributary of the Souris, just over 14 cfs.
There is currently no water being released from either Grant Devine or Rafferty Reservoirs in Saskatchewan where dry conditions are much the same as in North Dakota. Grant Devine, formerly Alameda, is located on Moose Mountain Creek which has had scarcely enough water in it to measure. As such, Grant Devine is nearly four feet below summer operating level.
The situation at Rafferty, located at Estevan, is similar. The largest impoundment on the Souris River drainage is three and one-quarter feet below its summer operating level and, like Grant Devine, has virtually no water coming in. Barring heavy rainfall over the basin, both reservoirs are in conservation mode to save water.
Boundary Reservoir, a power plant impoundment, has no flow coming in and is already six feet below its normal operating level.
Lake Metigoshe, located north of Bottineau, receives its water from drainages in Canada entirely independent of the Souris River Basin. As is the case elsewhere throughout the region, water is hard to come by this spring at the popular lake.
Lake Metigoshe has dropped below its customary level and is likely to continue to decline due to evaporation and other factors without the arrival of abundant rainfall. Oak Creek, which flows out of Lake Metigoshe to the south and through the City of Bottineau, is so low that it is virtually dry in several places.
Projections of runoff into Lake Sakakawea continue to be adjusted downward each month, again a reflection of just how dry it is over the entire Missouri River Basin and a less than normal snowpack. The April 1 runoff expectation had Lake Sakakawea reaching 1,837 feet at the end of April and 1,837.2 at the end of May. However, the latest three-week forecast for the reservoir is for 1,835.3 at the end of April and dropping to 1,834.7 by mid-May.
Each month for several months running the total runoff into the Missouri River Basin, measured in million acre feet, has been dropping. The April 1 outlook called for 21.3 maf of runoff but that does not appear to be materializing, mirroring a trend that may be an indicator of just how dry conditions have become throughout the drainage.
In their latest Missouri River Basin update the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that “April inflows in the upper Basin continue to be much below normal” and that “Mountain snowpack is below average.” Also, says the update, indicators show “increased chances for warmer-then-normal and drier-than-normal conditions in the Missouri Basin during May, June, and July.”