BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Minot residents who were ordered to leave their homes because of the flooding Souris River were told Monday that the river had receded enough to allow them to return, but they were cautioned not to get too comfortable.
Mayor Curt Zimbelman said residents should be prepared to evacuate again if a heavy rainfall hits northwestern North Dakota. Last week’s evacuation order affected about 10,000 Minot residents, roughly a quarter of the city’s population, and a shelter is staying open at the Minot city auditorium.
“Go in light,” Zimbelman said at a news conference in Minot. “We just don’t know what kind of rain events can happen. ... We recommend that people moving back into the re-entry zones take only the essentials with them.”
In Bismarck and Mandan, a group of officials including U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, U.S. Rep. Rick Berg and Gov. Jack Dalrymple toured riverside neighborhoods to inspect levees recently built to protect the cities from the flooding Missouri River. About 15 miles of earthen dikes have been constructed in the two communities, said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, commander of the North Dakota National Guard.
“Overall, we’re just so pleased ... that preparation has been has good as it has,” Dalrymple said. “It’s really much more than we ever could have hoped for, not only from the public sector, but the private response has been, really, nothing short of phenomenal.”
The river has risen to just more than 17 feet, a foot over flood stage, in the last two weeks since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began accelerating releases of water from the Garrison Dam because of heavy rains in eastern Montana, western South Dakota and southwestern North Dakota.
Officials are planning for a river peak of 20.6 feet in mid-June, when the corps intends to raise water releases to 150,000 cubic feet per second. The dam released about 120,000 cubic feet per second on Monday. The peak amount would supply enough water in one minute to satisfy Bismarck’s normal daily summer usage for almost a week.
Sprynczynatyk and Todd Sando, chief engineer for the North Dakota Water Commission, said the force of the flowing water has continued to widen and deepen the channel, thus slowing its rise. The U.S. Geological Survey had measured 40-foot river depths in some spots near Bismarck. The river’s normal depth is about 20 feet, Sprynczynatyk said.
Lake Sakakawea, the Missouri reservoir created by the Garrison Dam, is almost full. Its recent water releases have been much larger than normal to create storage space for water expected from melting snow in the Montana mountains, or from an unusually large rainstorm.