Hoeven Calls on Corps Division Commander To Follow State Water Commission Recommendations for Lake Sakakawea

Increase Storage and Reduce Risk for Flooding in 2012

WASHINGTON – In a meeting today with Gen. John McMahon, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Northwest Division Commander, Senator John Hoeven reiterated his call for the agency to follow the North Dakota State Water Commission’s recommendation and create 750,000 acre feet of additional storage capacity in Lake Sakakawea and help to avert possible flooding next spring.

Currently, the Corps plans to reduce the surface elevation of Lake Sakakawea to 1,837.5 feet mean sea level, the same level as last year. Hoeven, however, specifically called on McMahon and the Corps to lower the lake level by two-and-a-half feet, to 1835 feet for the 2011-2012 operational season, as the State Water Commission has requested. If the Corps chooses not to reduce the lake level by 2.5 feet, Hoeven said he wants the Corps to explain how it will prevent flooding next spring. He also asked who will make the decision to adopt the state’s recommendation, and when it will be made.

General McMahon indicated that he would have an answer for the senator by the end of the month. He also indicated that there is still a levee breach in Iowa that they are working to close, which affects their ability to release more water, but they are already creating 400,000 acre feet of extra capacity in the reservoir system.

This year, the existing dam system along the Missouri River failed to prevent flooding in Bismarck-Mandan as well as locations farther downstream. Heavier-than-average spring rains and elevated levels of snowmelt saturated the ground, resulting in unprecedented runoff into the river. The existing flood control system was overwhelmed by so much water so quickly.

The senator cited long-term forecasts by the U.S. Weather Service indicating higher-than-average precipitation, with the potential for higher spring runoff in 2012. NWS officials say the weather patterns that created this year’s extremes will likely affect next year’s weather, as well.

“The North Dakota Water Commission and state engineer have told you that you can move an additional 750,000 acre feet of water this fall without the risk of flooding downstream communities, which is the equivalent of 10,000 cubic-feet-per-second for 38 days that you won’t have to move next spring,” Hoeven said. “My question is, will you adopt that recommendation, and if not, how do you plan to move enough water out between mid-March and mid-May if we have higher-than-average precipitation and snowmelt, as we did this year? I also want to know who will take responsibility for that decision and when will it be made. Timing is critical, because once winter sets in, there will be little room for adjustment.”

Hoeven called for more flexibility and common sense in the way the Corps manages releases from the main stem dams, and specifically Lake Sakakawea. He said the inflows into the Missouri River System are rarely average, but rather subject to extremes between dry and wet cycles. The Master Manual allows for that flexibility, he said.

“The Corps needs to consider conditions on the ground and retain more water upstream during a dry cycle and let more water down during a wet cycle,” Hoeven said. “This will be the fourth consecutive year of above-average flows into the system, so the Corps needs to account for conditions on the ground and let more water out.”