Cavalier residents voice flooding, dam concerns during Gov. Burgum visit

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Published: May. 9, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT
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CAVALIER, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Water levels have dropped over a foot in a damaged northern Valley dam, however, officials say they’re not out of the woods yet.

Four pumps continue to work in overdrive at the Bourbanis Dam, as they pump out approximately 30,000 gallons of water per minute in an effort to alleviate major flooding and avoid widespread evacuations in towns like Cavalier.

A roundtable with Pembina County and Cavalier leaders was held Monday morning at the American Legion in Cavalier with Gov. Doug Burgum to discuss the recent flood response and recovery, as well as to hear concerns from those in the area.

Bourbanis Dam engineers say it’s too soon to tell how much this week’s heavy rains will impact the dam.

“It does make us nervous. A lot of it comes with how fast does the rain fall, and how fast it gets to the dam,” Zach Herrmann with Houston Engineering, engineer for the Pembina County Water Resource Board said.

Herrmann says as long as the pumps can keep up with the rainfall, the dam will be ok. However, he says that’s currently his crew’s biggest challenge as the wet conditions are posing a major hurdle in getting fuel to those pumps.

“We’re going through about 700 gallons of diesel a day. It’s a very kind of remote location and trail to get there. So, as that trail gets wet it’s going to be pretty tough to get the diesel tanks in there to keep the pumps running,” Herrmann said.

The number one concern voiced to leaders at Monday’s roundtable was what many say they feel is flooding happening more often, and asked what mitigation factors will be done to ensure towns like Cavalier aren’t in this position again for a long time. Gov. Burgum says it comes down to data collection with more river gauges across the state, and Herrmann says he agrees.

“The more information we have about rainfall, streamflow, elevations and all these dams, the more accurate we could be with our predications. It would be very helpful to have more data,” Herrmann said.

“We spend billions on flood protection and we spend pennies on the data collection to build the models. We have to spend some of those infrastructure dollars building out the intelligence gathering infrastructure so we can make smart decision with taxpayer money on what do we need, where do we need it, how should we design and build it?” Gov. Burgum said.

Officials say there’s only one gauge in the Tongue River watershed.

“Low water conditions, (the gauges) can help us determine if we can give an agricultural permit and in high water conditions they can help us with flood control and flood predictions,” Gov. Burgum said.

He added hundred of gauges are being installed across the state, but thousands are needed in order to better understand and protect North Dakotans.

Gov. Burgum also stated his office is in the process of collecting the total costs of flooding and damage from the recent storms across the state and plans to file for federal disaster relief reimbursements. If granted would unlock FEMA public assistance to help cities, counties and townships pay for the cost repairs to utilities, roads and other infrastructure.

“Keep your receipts,” he told city and county leaders.

Burgum declared a statewide emergency in late April after severe spring storms brought heavy rains and snowmelt that swelled creeks and rivers within the Sheyenne and Red River basins. The storms also brought freezing rain and snow to western North Dakota, toppling thousands of utility poles and knocking out power to thousands of residents.

The request for a presidential declaration will be submitted after rivers crest and initial damage assessments are completed. North Dakota’s infrastructure damage threshold for receiving a presidential declaration is approximately $1.3 million statewide, which Gov. Burgum says he thinks North Dakota will easily meet.

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