Premier meets with U.S. officials to discuss flood strategy

This winter’s snow pack would suggest no repeat of last year’s spring flooding, but officials in Saskatchewan and North Dakota are preparing just in case.

North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple and senator John Hoeven met with premier Brad Wall in Regina recently to discuss short- and long-term flood control plans.

Officials have been meeting since last year’s flooding to work on those plans.

Flooding in 2011 was mainly a result of heavy June rain that filled to overflowing the Rafferty Dam reservoir in Saskatchewan on the Souris River.

After flooding farmland and the village of Roche Percee southeast of Estevan, Sask., the water travelled to Minot, N.D., where it forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes and damaged 4,000 buildings.

The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority has been releasing water from the Rafferty and Alameda reservoirs continuously since last summer. Wall said both reservoirs are now one metre below normal operating levels.

“Given extraordinary events of last spring, we have agreed on both sides of the border to monitor the situation very carefully with respect to snow pack, with respect to rains that might come and we will obviously have some flexibility to increase the release and avoid what we saw last year,” he said.

The province received good news Feb. 3 when an examination of the Alameda Dam found no structural or stability problems. Wall said the final report on the dam’s condition would be available in about a week but it appears the reservoir can hold more water than officials thought.

A similar examination of Rafferty is underway.

The dams have been operating under the original 1989 international agreement, and Wall said that worked well until last year.

However, all state and provincial leaders agreed that the agreement deals only with managing snow pack, and not rain, and must be updated.

Dalrymple said North Dakotans do not blame Saskatchewan for the disaster that befell them.

“I am satisfied going through all the details of last year that there is nothing that our Saskatchewan neigh-bours could have done or would have done that would have improved the situation on the river,” he said. “Every decision was made properly.”

Still, he said the annual operating plan for the dams must include rainfall, and Canada and the United States must have the latitude to do what they need to do in the event of an emergency despite plan constraints.

He said better communication is critical, particularly of rain gauge data from Saskatchewan.

As well, he said the leaders agreed they should investigate the long-term target flows in the Souris River basin in both countries with a view to better managing the channel.

Wall said there is “precious little that is off the table” but would not say another dam is in the works.

Saskatchewan environment minister Dustin Duncan said another structure had previously been considered further up the system on Long Creek, but the focus now is looking at Rafferty to see if it could be expanded. That is more realistic, he added.

Hoeven said everything is on the table.

“You’re going to see more storage where we can create it — Rafferty, Alameda, Lake Darling (in North Dakota),” he said.

“You’re going to see levee work, diversion work along the river, and you’re going to see revisions to both the annual operating agreement on a regular basis and the permanent agreement that’s going to co-ordinate with the various flood protections that are built.”

Long-term changes should address the ability to sustain a higher flow over time, he added. Dalrymple said inspection of the Lake Darling dam found that its size and management could also be improved.

“What’s important is that people understand the time frame of all these things,” he said.

“Increasing the size of the dam is a longer-term solution. We have short-term decisions in the United States, particularly in Minot, that need to be made.”

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