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Watershed impoundment holds back spring melt and creates wildlife habita

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 05/13/2013 2:35 PM

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ADA, Minn. — As Fargo, N.D. completes its sandbagging efforts in anticipation of Red River floodwaters, Jon Roeschlein monitors the spring melt and rivers and streams in the river's headwaters.

He doesn't expect severe flooding, but the administrator for the Bois de Sioux Watershed District says that could change if rain events occur.

During a recent fly-over of the watershed district, Roeschlein noted that lots of dirt was showing in the southern third and eastern fourth of the district. Southwest of Lake Traverse, quite a bit of snow still existed. There's even more snow from Tintah to Breckenridge along the Rabbit River.

Minor flooding has been reported in the watershed with a few rural roads topped over by rising waters. Backhoes opened some field tiles to get water flowing. But the amount of work required this year is small compared to other flood events.

The North Ottawa Project, an impoundment controlling 75 square miles of the 320 square mile Rabbit River Watershed in Grant and Otter Tail Counties, is working. It's geared to store the excess runoff on 1,920 acres and can control about 75 percent of the estimated 100-year spring run off.

The impoundment area isn't quite full, he said. But it is providing excellent habitat for swans, geese and ducks. It looks like a large lake or slough. As the waters recede a portion of it will be farmed.

At the Bois de Sioux Watershed District website, a map shows the monitoring stations in the system that provide information on river stages. A click on some of the locations brings up a "threatened gauge notice for Minnesota." The U.S. Geological Survey has discontinued up to 375 stream gauges nationwide due to the budget cuts from sequestration.

But don't get too concerned, Roeschlein said. In the Bois de Sioux Watershed District, district staff do the monitoring needed so the National Weather Service can more accurately make its flood predictions for the Red River Valley.

Other watershed districts and state agencies are doing the same along the Red, he said.

Even with late spring snows, much of the melt has gone into the ground and the melt has been slow.

"We have really been quite lucky," Roeschlein said. "I keep telling people how lucky we really are."

While they continue to monitor rivers and streams for water flow, people along the Red River Watershed will also be watching the sky for rain clouds in case heavy showers changes the flood potential.