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By Caroline Downs
While the Des Lacs River flows south from the national wildlife refuge at Kenmare and joins the Mouse River near Burlington, the Mouse continues downstream to the J. Clark Salyer NWR before re-entering Canada. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service personnel are doing what they can to mitigate possible flooding that could result from the dense snow pack of Winter 2012-2013.
“We are not a flood control agency,” said Frank Durbian, project leader, “but we’ve done everything possible to provide some storage capacity.”
In this case, “everything possible” means de-watering the five pools that comprise the J. Clark Salyer refuge. “We were releasing 425 cubic feet per second (cfs) last week and now that’s down to 254 cfs going into Canada,” he said. “That should help with flows going back into Canada and provide some storage.”
Durbian is watching activity on the Mouse River on both sides of the basin, but much of the control of the river’s flow through Lake Darling on the Upper Souris NWR was transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on March 19th.
“We operate the dam [at Lake Darling] to what they want,” he said. “That has been releases of 800 cfs since last Wednesday.”
He explained the last flood forecast made with data provided by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey indicated a one in seven chance for a significant flood event on the Mouse River. “The Corps of Engineers decided 800 cfs is the proper flow for now to maintain storage capacity for what’s coming from Canada,” he said.
The NWS and USGS continue to work with corresponding agencies in Canada to determine flow forecasts from the Alameda, Boundary and Rafferty reservoirs in southern Saskatchewan that feed the Mouse River, but specific numbers were not available as of Monday afternoon.
“The approximate projected flow at the Sherwood gauge for April 1st was 1,060 cfs, but that’s subject to change,” Durbian said.
He mentioned that once releases from Lake Darling meet or exceed 800 cfs, some flooding occurs downstream. “We do see the river slowly flowing out into the low-lying areas between the Lake Darling dam and Burlington,” he said.
He also noted the river channel was open from the dam to within 1.5 miles of Burlington on Monday, with the ice slowly melting rather than fracturing. “That looks good,” he said.
The 800 cfs releases from Lake Darling had not reached J. Clark Salyer refuge by Monday. “The flow is 625 cfs at Bantry,” Durbian said.
On Friday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued a disaster declaration to prepare for potential spring flooding events in several of the state’s river basins, including the Mouse River. The declaration activates the State Emergency Operations Plan which requires state agencies to prepare to provide timely flood response services.
Spring ice fishing possible
While flow levels of the Mouse River remain under scrutiny during unseasonably cold weather, fishermen may get to enjoy some April ice fishing on Lake Darling.
Durbian estimated the lake ice to be 30” to 36” thick last week, but that may have thinned somewhat during the past few days. “I think the ice will last for a while,” he said, “but we’re telling everybody to exercise caution if they go out there.”
He said access to the lake has been made difficult by heavy snowfall and wind in March, with snowdrifts, slush and even water from snowmelt covering the top of the lake.
“At Landing Three, the road has been plowed and is open,” he said. “Otherwise, you can get out [to fish the lake] if you want to walk.”
According to refuge regulations, all permanent ice houses had to be removed by March 15th. Durbian said a couple of ice houses cannot be retrieved yet because of snow conditions on the ice, but refuge personnel are coordinating removal of those structures with their owners.
In contrast to the lake ice, the river ice is dangerous now, according to Durbian. “I would be cautious of going on the ice anywhere on the river,” he said. “It’s slowly eroding, and you can see the edges of the river through Minot starting to thaw.”
He advised anglers to monitor weather conditions and the situation at the Lake Darling dam before planning their fishing trips. “Just practice standard ice safety,” he finished.
Durbian can be reached at 701-768-2548 ext. 113 for further information about water conditions at the Upper Souris and J. Clark Salyer NWRs.