River rises, flood extends undergroundBISMARCK — Levees built to keep the Missouri River from flooding much of south Bismarck are in top-notch shape, engineers declared Thursday. In Minot, the Souris River began to recede, giving hope to about 10,000 residents who have been ordered to leave their homes. The Missouri went above its official 16-foot flood stage in Bismarck on Thursday, measuring 16.45 feet in the late afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Levees built to keep the Missouri River from flooding much of south Bismarck are in top-notch shape, engineers declared Thursday. In Minot, the Souris River began to recede, giving hope to about 10,000 residents who have been ordered to leave their homes.
The Missouri went above its official 16-foot flood stage in Bismarck on Thursday, measuring 16.45 feet in the late afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Officials expect the river to rise at least another foot by the weekend as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increases its water releases from the Garrison Dam, which dumps Lake Sakakawea water into the river. Its predicted mid-June crest is 20.6 feet, said Todd Lindquist, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The increased releases are needed because the reservoir, fed by recent heavy rains and melting snow, is almost full.
North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Thursday asked the federal secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, for aid in battling an expected increase in underground water pressure as the river continues rising in the next several days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is under Napolitano’s jurisdiction.
As the amount of water in the Missouri has increased, along with the speed of its flows, silt plugs that have blocked river water from percolating beneath sandy soils adjacent to the river, Conrad said.
As a result, as the river rises, the water underground is likely to force its way upward on nearby land, which puts pressure on sewer and water systems and streets, as well as the basements and foundations of private homes, Conrad said.
Engineers have suggested installing pipes to draw off the water and allow it to be pumped elsewhere. The effort could cost up to $15 million, but it would protect up to $200 million worth of public works, and FEMA is being asked to foot the bill, Conrad said.
The senator said Napolitano appointed a special agency group to study the request, and that he hoped for a quick answer.
“We could have a much broader set of challenges if we don’t deal with this (water) pressure,” Conrad said. The flooding river has not yet affected the water or sewage systems in Bismarck or Mandan, public works officials said.
Col. Robert Ruch, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Omaha district, and a top district engineer, Robert Michaels, inspected earthen levees that have been built in the past week to protect south Bismarck. The levees, which are built to 22 feet, are sound and capable of being built still higher, Michaels said.
“We are really in good shape right now,” he said.
In Minot, the Souris River crested a day earlier and a foot lower than predicted, the National Weather Service said Thursday.
Meteorologist Joshua Scheck said the river crested at 1,554 feet above sea level at about 1 a.m. Thursday. By late Thursday afternoon, the river had fallen another 6 inches, he said.
The weather service had predicted a crest of 1,555 feet late Thursday or early Friday. Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman had ordered the evacuation of about 10,000 residents Tuesday after the weather service predicted a higher river crest than the Souris dikes could handle. The dikes have been raised to 1,558 feet, or about 4 feet higher than the river’s actual crest.
Residents who had been ordered out of their flood-threatened homes were being allowed back Thursday to check sump pumps and gather medicines and other important items.
Scheck said a heavy rain could still raise the Souris River’s level significantly. “The flood fight will have to continue for some time,” he said. “Reservoirs are nearly full, and the ability to control heavy runoff is crippled.”
Dalrymple said sandbagging efforts have been extensive enough to allow the stockpiling of some sandbags for emergencies, rather than pressing them immediately into service on levees.
“Once the water is up, you don’t have time to make new sandbags,” the governor said. “You’ve got to have sandbags on hand.”