Mouse River Park is open but caution is advised
Posted 5/17/11 (Tue)
By Caroline Downs
The weekend’s flood forecasts for the Souris (Mouse) River came in with unprecedented numbers, with the Sherwood gauge increasing from 20.75 feet on Friday to 22.86 feet on Sunday and expected to peak at 23.6 feet this week. Flow rates were predicted to increase from 3,900 cubic feet per second (cfs) late last week to as much as 10,000 cfs by this weekend.
“When we got those wild predictions, we were worried,” said Roger Sauer, Renville County Water Resource Board member. “That would mean the water would be high enough to possibly top the dikes at Mouse River Park.”
Sauer and his counterparts Jim Burbidge and Mark Cook have been working closely with Renville County Emergency Manager Kristi Titus and officials with the Army Corps of Engineers to monitor water at the Park. In fact, they met late Monday afternoon at the Park itself to assess the situation.
Fortunately, the Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service called in representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey to review the measurements and take another look at gauges recording the amount of water leaving the Alameda and Rafferty reservoirs in Saskatchewan and entering North Dakota near Sherwood.
“They thought the cfs level was at 10,600 and would get to 11,000 cfs at Sherwood,” explained Titus. “But right now, it’s at 6,600 cfs. We’re going to see the rise in the water, but it’s not going to come as fast, and that’s going to make a big difference.”
“Their water elevation is correct, but their prediction for the amount of water coming was off,” added Sauer. “That 6,000 cfs puts us back in our parameters.”
Sauer said Corps of Engineers is watching the entire Souris River system carefully. The current elevation at the Park itself stands at 1603.6 feet on the upstream side and 1601 feet on the downstream side. Sauer reminded the public that 1601.5 feet triggers the recommended voluntary evacuation, which was first issued just over a month ago.
The evacuation order remains in place until the water elevation in the Park drops to 1599 feet.
He and Titus agreed the situation remains extremely serious at Mouse River Park, and discussions have taken place concerning the necessary steps in case of a dike failure. “We’re watching the water level and we’ll do what we can or what is possible so water doesn’t go over the dike,” Titus said.
“We’re going to have to weigh the options if it gets to that point,” said Sauer. He explained that a six-inch wall of sandbags could be added to the top of the dike, but the truck traffic needed to haul that amount of sand to the Park could cause extensive damage, too.
Long stretch of high
water requires caution
Mouse River Park has been under a voluntary evacuation order since mid-April because of high water levels in the river, keeping county officials busy. “We saw a crest in April and thought that was the high point,” said Titus.
Excess ground water has been pumped off the softball diamond, and Coles Road, while still wet, is not as muddy as it was earlier this spring. “The roads inside the Park have improved a lot,” said Titus. “They’re still wet, but not as soft.”
Titus cautioned Park visitors against driving around the “Road Closed” signs posted at the west entrance to the Park, where the Souris River has been flowing over the spillway across the road there for more than a month.
“We don’t know what’s underneath the water and pavement there,” she said. “It’s unsafe for people to travel that.”
The bar and restaurant at Mouse River Park have opened for business and a few weekend visitors parked their campers in sites along the river directly north of those establishments. “We know they like to leave [the campers] there all summer, but we still have the recommended evacuation in place,” Titus said. “It’s getting to be that time of year when people want to get down there and start enjoying the Park, but it’s up to people to decide if they want to remove any of their items or personal property from those sites.”
“We’re still recommending people don’t camp in the Park yet,” said Sauer. “Once the peak goes over, we’ll be in better shape, but these roads are bad. Everything’s soft.”
He noted this year’s flood event is the first time the flood control structures at Rafferty and Alameda reservoirs, Mouse River Park and Lake Darling have been tested by water at these levels. “Even the USGS and Army Corps are watching closely,” he said. “The dikes have been holding water for a month now. At what point are they too soft? They’re being monitored closely and walked every day.”
One for the record books
As area residents pump water from basements that have never been wet and farmers push their seeding schedule back another week, people have been talking about a record-setting winter. Precipitation data released from the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge may support that theory.
Total snowfall from October 2010 through May 1, 2011, equals 73.7”, converting to 9.89” of moisture. The April 30th snowstorm dumped 4.5” on the immediate area, followed by 2.97” of rain between May 1st and 11th.
Since January 2011, precipitation in the area totals 6.87”, almost two inches above the average moisture total for January through May.
Sauer said the heavy rain showers last week between Kenmare and Sherwood missed his home near Glenburn. “But the water flowed down and topped the road at Glenburn,” he said.
He also flew over northern Renville and Ward counties last week and saw water standing in fields everywhere. “The Tolley Flats are draining north into the Des Lacs River and south into Lake Darling at a fairly high rate,” he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers increased outflows at the Lake Darling Dam to 4,600 cfs on Monday. The current operating plan will see continued increases up to 5,000 cfs by May 23rd. Discharges are planned between 4,500 cfs and 5,000 cfs for at least the next four weeks.
Unfortunately, this week’s forecast calls for more rain showers in the region, but Sauer said the total amount is expected to be about one inch, falling over several days. “We’re at a concerned level right now,” he said. “We’ve got lots of forecasts. We hope we can do the best we can, and not get the high water.”