How Big Snowpack Affects Dam Operations

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Winter of 2016 has already been one of the snowiest in recent memory.

But does a lot of snow translate to a greater risk of flooding?

Yesterday we heard from the National Weather Service who says that’s not the case.

Tim Olson spoke with an official at the Lake Darling Dam.

(Tim Olson, KX News) After three major snowstorms in just one month, snow in western North Dakota is piling up.

The NDSU Extension Center in Minot has recorded just over 44 inches of snow so far this season. That’s four inches above the long-term average for an entire winter – and not too far from the pace of snowfall in 2010 – the winter before a spring and summer of record flooding along the Mouse River.

But is it time to start worrying about flooding this year?

(Frank Durbian, Upper Souris Wildlife Refuge) “I think it’s a little premature to get too nervous about what’s going on.”

(Olson) That’s Frank Durbian. He helps manage the Lake Darling Dam northwest of Minot – the last of three dams designed to control the Mouse River.

(Frank Durbian, Upper Souris Wildlife Refuge) “Locally, obviously we have some pretty good snow, but I don’t think this will impact as much as what we may see up in the upper part of the basin. At this point it looks fairly benign, I would say – but we have a lot of winter left.”

(Olson) Durbian says last weekend’s blizzard only dropped a few inches of snow in southern Canada. That’s good news for the rest of the basin.

Durbian says Lake Darling is within a few inches of its target winter operating level, and the dam is currently releasing about 50 cubic feet per second of water – about what they’ve done over the past several winters. That might change when the International Flow Forecasting Committee meets on February 1st to estimate what the spring melt might look like in the Mouse River Basin.

But until then, the crew at Lake Darling Dam is playing the waiting game.

(Durbian) “We’ll just wait and see what happens with future events in the basin. Then we’ll let the flow forecast committee try to give us information in terms of how to react to what may or may not happen.”

(Olson) Reporting from Lake Darling, Tim Olson, KX News.

Durbian has been with the Upper Souris Wildlife Refuge since 2011.

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