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RRV flood expected but efforts underway for future water retention

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 04/19/2013 3:13 PM

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HANKINSON, N.D. — Everyone was talking about drought last fall in the Red River Valley, but now people are preparing for flooding, said Lance Yohe, executive director of the Red River Basin Commission.

Near Wheaton, in the Bois de Sioux Watershed District, snowpack moisture measured between four to seven inches with an eight inch reading near Campbell, said Jon Roeschlein, BDSWD administrator.

While Roeschlein expects "pretty decent flood," it won't match 1997. Nine inches of moisture, from the snowpack and rain, was reported that spring. Five inches of that moisture became runoff and another three to four inches either evaporated, was tied up in depressions or soaked into the ground. The ground was already saturated due to fall rains. Ditches were also filled and frozen.

It's a different story this year.

Channels that handle water and runoff are open and the ground was dry last fall.

The landscape has also changed over the past 15 to 20 years, Roeschlein said. Many farms and communities constructed ring dikes to protect property.

Managing water and water movement is nothing new, Yohe said. It's been done since people began living in the basin. The NRCS and SWCDs have initiated projects to help with water management. Some areas further downstream have constructed dams and retention ponds to hold and control water.

Agencies, watershed districts and local governments are working together ease flood problems. Those efforts are part of the RRBC's long-term flood solution plan. The RRBC has set a goal of 20 percent reduction of peak flows throughout the Red River Basin.

Chad Engels of Moore Engineering has helped several watersheds identify where impoundment structures would be most effective. At a South Valley Initiative meeting in Hankinson, Engels said not every project may be built, but even a few will have benefits.

A poster child for impoundment projects is the North Ottawa Project in the Bois de Sioux Watershed District.

The impoundment controls 75 square miles of the 320 square mile Rabbit River Watershed in Grant and Otter Tail counties and stores excess runoff on 1,920 acres. The project involves dikes around the perimeter of the impoundment, a collection system to bring water into the impoundment and partitioning the interior to provide a complex of sub-impoundments.

Waters carried by drainage ditches is intercepted by the channels and brought to the impoundment through a diked inlet channel. It has 100 percent capacity available for spring runoff.

In 2011, it was filled within 200 acre feet of its storage capacity.

It essentially saved the nearby town of Tintah and kept 16,000 acre feet of water from reaching the Fargo-Moorhead area, Roeschlein said.

Two-thirds of the impoundment can be farmed. Farmers in the area say they can get into their fields four weeks earlier than they could prior to the project.

"Now that we are capturing that water, it isn't saturating everything," Roeschlein said. "Obviously we need more of these to get a handle on things."

The North Ottawa Impoundment Project and others take time, Yohe said. Besides the technical engineering designs, land has to be acquired. Thanks to the completion and success of North Ottawa, farmers and residents see the benefits first-hand. More communication is on-going between landowners and watershed staff.

BDSWD has another project ready. Redpath, located on the Mustinka River, will be an off-channel storage site designed to take high water off the river. Almost all the land needed to complete the project has been purchased.

Redpath, which will require 2,100 acres with around nine miles of dike and seven miles of river corridor reconstruction, could be complete in 2018, Roeschlein said.