Posted 10/19/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
No one wants to see a repeat of the flooding that occurred along the Missouri River drainage system this past summer. Because of a record snowfall in the mountains of Montana as well as record rains this past spring and summer in the Dakotas and throughout the drainage area that flows into the Missouri River system, the Missouri River overflowed its banks and resulted in billions of dollars worth of damage.
While there were those that blamed mismanagement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the flooding problems, Mother Nature was largely responsible for the massive amounts of water that were forced to be held behind the dams until the water began to flow unchecked over the spillways.
Without a doubt, if the Corps of Engineers had possessed a magical crystal ball, it could have begun releasing more water from the mainstem reservoirs, such as the Ft. Peck Dam in Montana, the Garrison Dam in North Dakota and the Oahe Dam in South Dakota much earlier and possibly have prevented some of the flooding. But the Corps didn’t have a crystal ball. Instead it relied entirely on a very outdated master manual that has for years dictated that water be held behind the mainstem dams in the fall and winter months and then released in the spring to ensure adequate water flows for barge traffic and navigation downstream. And for years, the master manual worked pretty well in ensuring that objective.
But the summer of 2011 proved how flawed the Corps’ master manual was when it came to adapting to rapidly changing situations.
And we witnessed the destruction as the mighty Missouri broke out of its banks and flooded homes, businesses and countryside from Montana to Missouri.
So did the Corps of Engineers learn anything from the year of the great flood? Apparently not as much as most people would have hoped they would have.
The reason for that doubt is the Corps of Engineers plans to hold back the levels of the Garrison Dam in North Dakota to the same level for the spring of 2012 that they were at in the spring of 2011 or at 1,837.5 feet.
Couple that high water level with the National Weather Service predicting another above-average precipitation year in the mountains of Montana and the Upper Midwest, and you can see why governors up and down the Missouri River system, including North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, are calling for the Corps to dump some more water downstream between now and spring.
Just to be on the safe side, Gov. Dalrymple would like to see the elevation of the Garrison Dam to be 2.5 feet lower than what the Corps wants by next spring. And his concerns are valid. The lowering of the lake by that amount would create an additional 50,000 acre-feet of storage space or be the equivalent to releases of 10,000 cubic feet of water per second for 38 days.
After experiencing the past year of flooding, one would think that the Corps of Engineers would be the first group to believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.