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SWOLLEN BUT STEADY: Minot topping out well below prediction

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MINOT, N.D. - When Mayor Curt Zimbelman announced Saturday afternoon at a press conference that the Souris River was projected to crest at 1,561.8 feet overnight, applause immediately broke out.

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It's yet another significant reduction in the crest projection. Just that morning, the National Weather Service had projected the crest to be more than a foot-and-a-half higher. The day before, its crest projection was more than two-and-a-half feet higher.

The mayor said he understands that the water is moving a lot faster than was expected. Furthermore, he said, reservoirs in Canada are now able to take on more water, and the reservoir at Lake Darling, just upstream from Minot, will be able to reduce the flow of water from 25,000 cubic feet per second to 24,000 cfs.

The jubilation of Minot officials at the press conference was tempered by some less than stellar news.

The tap water may have been contaminated with river water, which impacts not only Minot but also surrounding communities that depend on the city's water treatment system, according to Jim Heckman, the environmental health director for First District Health Unit here.

He advised residents to boil their water before drinking to kill harmful microorganisms. He also said they should not brush their teeth or wash dishes or make ice with the water.

Also, the Broadway bridge won't reopen to the public anytime soon, according to the mayor. It's the only connection between the northern and southern half of the city that's actually inside the city. The alternative is a circuitous and restrictively narrow route around the city.

Zimbelman said keeping the bridge closed is necessary because the faster velocity of the water means it's also eroding the clay levees faster on the approach to the bridge, and he doesn't want a lot of vehicles on the bridge if clay-hauling dump trucks need to get in there in an emergency.

That danger holds true throughout the city wherever there are temporary clay levees.

"We are now at the highest level of risk that we have been at during this fight," the mayor said, "and we will continue to be at this high risk level for the next several days."

Reservoirs

Thinking farther ahead, the press peppered officials with questions about the system of flood-control reservoirs that had failed to protect the Souris River valley.

Three of the reservoirs are in Canada, controlled by officials there, and one is in North Dakota at Lake Darling, controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during flooding. Water dumped from the Canadian reservoirs have contributed to the flood woes, in addition to heavy rains in Saskatchewan.

Zimbelman said the Canadians have been good partners, but their dams were full and they had to release. He noted that all this floodwater will head back into Canada with the Souris River.

More questions about the potential culpability of the Canadians prompted a history lesson from Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the North Dakota National Guard's adjutant general. It's true that the United States did pay for part of the Canadian reservoirs, he said, but it was only after the Canadians had decided to build them to provide hydropower. Americans wanted to add to the reservoirs so they could also serve to restrain flood waters.

In other words, the reservoirs were never meant to sit empty to provide flood control for the Americans. These things were all agreed to in an operating plan and that plan was followed during this flood, according to the general.

Other questions followed.

How about if the United States pay to buy more reservoir space?

There was no answer to that question.

Jean Schempp, the owner of several area radio stations whose home has flooded, asked the general: Will Minot see the same flood next year?

"There's no way of knowing," he said. "There's absolutely no way."

Tu-Uyen Tran writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

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