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Renville Co. water board works with several agencies to control the Mouse River

Mouse River Park has been a favorite recreation site of area residents for over 100 years because of the way the Mouse River meanders around an oxbow there, but management of that river flow is not strictly under the local control of those who know it best.

4/20/11 (Wed)


Mouse River Park has been a favorite recreation site of area residents for over 100 years because of the way the Mouse River meanders around an oxbow there, but management of that river flow is not strictly under the local control of those who know it best.


The Renville County Water Resource Board has to coordinate water control activities with several agencies. “We have provincial, federal, state and county officials all involved in this loop system,” said Water Resource Board member Roger Sauer, listing the Saskatchewan and Manitoba water authorities, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Dakota State Water Commission and local water boards as other entities participating in decisions regarding Mouse River levels.


And one of the major decision-makers about the river’s flow is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who recently conducted an intensive inspection, due every five years, of the flood control structures at the Park. “A team of six or eight people came and walked the whole dike,” said Jim Burbidge, adding that he and the other water resource board members would be receiving copies of the completed report.


A change in the river levels and additional strain on the Park’s flood control structures became an issue at Mouse River Park during the winter as officials in Saskatchewan determined the need to release water from the Rafferty and Alameda reservoirs throughout the winter, leading to releases from Lake Darling downstream of the Park.


“If they want to do winter draw-downs, we think that’s a good idea,” Burbidge said, “but we’ve got to get everybody working together on it.”


According to Sauer and Burbidge, optimum flow at the Park is 1600 cubic feet per second (cfs), with 1200 cfs flowing through the diversion and 400 cfs through the Park itself. “If it’s flowing at 1600 cfs, that cleans things out,” Sauer said.


The 2010-2011 winter water releases at higher flow rates resulted in complications for the Park’s flood control structures and pump, none of which were designed for use in subzero temperatures. However, the problems were corrected before any major flooding took place.


If year-round releases continue, Burbidge would like to see a steady flow rate, rather than an influx of water on days when the thermometer stands at 20 degrees below zero. “I don’t know what the magic number would be,” he said, “but that way we could get set up for it, have everything ready for the water at Dam 41 and have the gates open or closed, as needed, at the Park. That would probably help the Minot area some, too.”


Flood control has been a factor at Mouse River Park ever since area residents decided to use the site for recreation purposes, with Sauer and Burbidge recalling events of the 1969 and the mid-1970s spring floods, including one area resident who drove his boat into the Park’s skating rink. “There are still marks on the Pavilion wall where the water level was in 1969,” Burbidge said.


A major flood control project was launched about 20 years ago, involving the Park as well as improvements to the Lake Darling Dam, and flood control structures at Burlington, Sawyer, Logan, Velva and Minot.


The flood control structures and diversion at the Park include a sluice gate and pump on the south side, a gate with stop logs and the box culvert at the park’s west entrance, along with improvements to the dike. Work on the project was finished in the early 1990s at a cost just below $2 million.


“Some of the problems we run into now come from the fact this project was finished prior to finishing the Lake Darling Dam improvements,” Sauer said, “which allowed the lake to run one foot higher than this project was designed for. When the lake is within its normal elevation, we’re within six inches of our flood levels.”


Pre-runoff levels at Mouse River Park this spring stood at 1,598’, an elevation above sea level. “We’re supposed to start pumping at 1,597.5 feet,” said Sauer. “We can flow it enough to draw through Dam 41 [near Tolley] right now, but if we close [off the Park], we can still get enough leakage to flood the Park.”


“At 1,601 feet, we have to evacuate the Park, according to our manual,” Burbidge said. “And we’re not supposed to allow people back in until the water has gone down to 1,599 feet.”

When the river level rises to 1,601’, the water’s surface is only three and a half feet below the top of the Park’s levy. If the water were to rise higher, the risk of breaching the system becomes a possibility.


The roadway immediately west of the box culvert will accommodate overflow from the diversion when necessary, but the Park’s pump runs often. According to Burbidge, since the flood control project was completed, there has only been one summer when the pump and stop-logs were not used, although the diesel pump was intended for use once every 15 years and is now showing its age.


Sauer said the impact of the flood control project has been mixed. Given the changes in federal regulations and flood management criteria since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the purchase of flood insurance is limited or impossible because the Park’s system is only designed to handle 65-year flood situations.


However, water levels have been monitored and controlled fairly well during the past 20 years, with no major floods occurring. “That’s caused the Park to improve,” said Sauer. “There haven’t been a lot of the annual floods we normally see. The problem is, when that day comes, a lot of nice buildings will be destroyed.”


“People see the levy and have a false confidence it will be able to hold back everything,” Burbidge added.


The 185 acres that make up Mouse River Park are home to three businesses, dozens of seasonal cabins, and two families who live there year-round. An ice jam on the river, a suddenly warm spring day that drastically thaws the snow pack, or a drenching spring rainstorm can alter water levels at the Park quickly.


“We don’t want to scare people, but we want them to be aware of what they need to do if the water does come,” Sauer said. “It’s easier to prepare for the flood rather than clean up afterward. They should move their vehicles and other valuables.”


“And there are sandbags available in Renville County,” said Burbidge.


Sauer, Burbidge and fellow board member Mark Cook watch the river carefully, and follow trends from data posted from the Sherwood gauge and by the National Weather Service to determine when they need to go take a look at the river levels for themselves. “Mark usually goes down there once or twice a day,” said Burbidge. “Things can happen between the gauges you don’t know about.”


“We get the reports and concerned calls,” Sauer said. “We always try to explain the situation. We’re cautiously optimistic this spring, but realistic. We’ll do everything we can to keep the Park from flooding.”