In June of 2011, record water flows on the Souris River flooded Minot, North Dakota, causing damage estimated at as much as $1.4 billion.
Nearly 5,000 homes and buildings were flooded and many residents of Minot were angry at Canada, saying that Saskatchewan allowed too much water to flow south.
The anger eventually subsided but community leaders in Minot and dozens of small towns in Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Manitoba, decided to do something about high and low water flows in the Souris River basin (map in PDF format), which is about eight times larger than the Greater Toronto area.
They created the International Souris River Study Board, to review the operation of dams and control structures in the basin. The mandate of the board is to better understand the causes of flooding and recommend steps to reduce the risk. Plus, find ways to alleviate low water flows during periods of drought.
This fall, the board wants to hear from farmers, landowners and residents in the basin. A questionnaire is now posted on the group’s website and it will be open for comments until Nov. 12.
“The International Souris River Study Board will consider various alternative operating plans for the reservoirs in the basin,” the website says. “The survey will help us pinpoint key locations of interest in the basin and give us a… perspective of the positive and negative impacts of different water levels and flows.”
There are dozens of dams and control structures in the Souris River basin, including major dams like the Rafferty-Grant Devine Project, located north of Estevan, Sask.
Using models and data, engineers can study a variety of dam-operating scenarios and estimate the resultant water flow in the Souris River.
But a number like 80 cubic meters per second doesn’t explain the impact on a cattle producer who has pasture land along the Souris River. Or the impact on a small town that relies on the river for water.
“This is an opportunity (where) people can have their say,” said Debbie McMechan, Canadian co-chair of the public advisory group for the study board. “Low or high flows that people are seeing and how (the flows) affect them, is exactly what (we’re) asking for.”
The public input from the survey will be used to write a report, scheduled for release in 2020. The Souris River Study Board plans to propose “alternative approaches and recommendations on system operations, including dam safety, by bringing together all of the modelling, data, and public input,” its website states.
Those recommendations will go to the International Joint Commission, a body that oversees lake and river systems that cross the border between Canada and the United States.