Low water levels
Drought affected river flows and lakes in 2021
In mid-June 2021, Lake Sakakawea was about six feet lower than it was at the same time in 2020. Some people were concerned about access to the water if the drought continues but told the primary boat ramps should remain in service.
Since October 2020, North Dakota had been experiencing very dry conditions that continued into 2021.
When spring arrived, water levels in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, sloughs and waterholes throughout the area showed the dire need for rain since there had not been a lot of snow during the winter.
For example, Lake Metigoshe, north of Bottineau, dropped below its usual level and was expected to decline without needed rainfall.
The story was similar for rivers, lakes and other water across the area.
By July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Lake Sakakawea, the state’s largest reservoir, had reached its peak elevation for the year and had begun to decline.
The lake reached 1,836.6 feet in late June. On July 6, it was at 1,836.3 feet. The lake was projected to continue to decline until reaching 1,830.5 feet at the end of the year.
In November Gov. Doug Burgum asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help maintain access at boat ramps on Lake Sakakawea as the lake’s elevation was predicted to remain lower next spring due to the 2021 historic drought.
Burgum made the request to minimize economic losses from the drought. He told Col. Mark Himes, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Omaha District, that the North Dakota Department of Commerce reports visitors to counties bordering Lake Sakakawea spent more than $290 million in 2020, supporting more than 3,000 jobs.
“The long-range forecast for Lake Sakakawea’s elevation next spring is approximately 1,827 feet. At that level, the main boat ramps at 20 of North Dakota’s 36 recreation sites on the lake would be unusable,” Burgum said in the letter. “Combined with known siltation issues at seven main ramp locations, access to the lake is expected to be significantly constrained.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor recently reported the “lack of precipitation, excessive evapotranspiration, and windy conditions further dried soils” especially in western plains of the Great Plains.