Army Corps to step down releases from Garrison ahead of winter freeze

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The Army Corps of Engineers says runoff into the Missouri River is at record levels and on pace to challenge the yearly record. Fortunately, it hasn't caused any major flooding in North Dakota. But in order to prepare for a potentially wet spring, the Corps is still trying to move water out of Garrison Dam.

The corps will keep the releases at 48,000 cubic feet per second, a level it's been hovering around most of the summer and fall, then the step down process as they prepare for the winter freeze. A conference call with local officials verified all through the Midwest, everywhere is extremely wet.

The Missouri River at Bismarck has run fast all summer as the Army Corps had to move a record amount of water through the dams. Now with winter approaching, the strategy has to change.

"Seeing what they're releasing right now, they're doing it aggressively at 48,000 cfs. They do have to scale that back as they move into a freezing period. That's to ensure we don't cause flooding problems by having too much water when the river does freeze,” said Gary Stockert, Bismarck’s emergency manager.

The Corps three-week forecast shows Garrison Dam releases being cut in half between now and Thanksgiving. When the river does freeze, they'll be able to slightly increase the releases. The Corps says it will continue to be “aggressive” in trying to lower the pool elevation at Garrison Damn to 1837.5, the lowest level for the annual flood control zone.

The question going forward is how much snow falls in North Dakota and Montana. Burleigh County commissioner Kathleen Jones says some low lying areas will probably see water but doesn't expect major flooding. She says as the weather gets colder, snow could prevent a deep freeze in the ground.

"I believe, on average, it’s about four or four and half feet. When you have something on top of it, it keeps it at that level. When you have no snow whatsoever, it goes deeper,” said Jones.

How deep the ground freezes could determine how much damage we see next spring. A quick thaw would cause damage to fields and roads.

Keep in mind this is a moving target and we won't have a better idea about the conditions until February at least.

From Senator Hoeven’s Office:

"We have been in regular contact with Army Corps Missouri River Chief John Remus over the past several months to ensure the Army Corps is planning ahead to mitigate the risk of flooding. We continue working to monitor the Missouri River levels, and today’s call was part of the Corps’ regularly scheduled updates. The Corps continues to release high levels of water through the river system in order to adjust to the above average amount of precipitation and runoff we've received this year. The Corps is evacuating more water now in order to freeze the river at a higher level, which will enable water to be evacuated beneath the surface. The Corps has said this will help ensure there is adequate storage available for flood control before the spring runoff begins in 2020."

From Brandon VerVelde, spokesman for Congressman Armstrong:

“We appreciate the Corps’ efforts to keep stakeholders informed on the status of the Missouri River basin and river management in North Dakota. We will continue to monitor the Corps projections for this winter and next spring.”