BISMARCK - Officials here expressed confidence Saturday that emergency levees will hold back the raging Missouri River, despite the Army Corps of Engineers again boosting the flows it plans to release from Garrison Dam.
"We will be able to protect our city," Bismarck Mayor John Warford said during an evening news conference carried live by KFYR-AM. "We're going to aggressively build levees. We are going to strive to work through this together, and we're going to win this flood fight. I'm firmly convinced that we will."
The corps said that because of anticipated rainfall, it will increase flows from the dam by mid-June to 150,000 cubic feet per second, or 30,000 cfs higher than announced Friday.
However, the impact of the increased flows will have "minimal impact" on Bismarck's planned levees, Warford said.
That's because the high volume of water barreling down the Missouri River is scouring the channel and creating more flow capacity, said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, commander of the North Dakota National Guard.
Flood stage in Bismarck is 16 feet. The river was at 15.84 feet at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, when officials thought it would be closer to 17 feet, said Todd Sando, chief engineer for the State Water Commission.
At a dam release of 150,000 cfs, the river level is expected to reach 20.6 feet, or 1.4 feet lower than what officials previously thought, Sprynczynatyk said, noting that such flows haven't been seen in Bismarck since Garrison Dam began operating in 1953.
"The really good news today is what we learned about the hydraulics of the river itself," he said.
Sando and Sprynczynatyk said river capacity is increasing because the channel bottom and banks are eroding from the high volume and speed of the flows. In the middle of the river Saturday, water was moving at 15.6 feet per second - seven to eight times faster than normal, Sprynczynatyk said.
Based on the increased capacity, "much of the same (levee) alignment we discussed yesterday will be able to be maintained," Sprynczynatyk said. The goal is to build levee protection to 21 feet plus 1 foot of freeboard, he said.
"We are very confident in these numbers," he said. "What we don't know, of course, is what Mother Nature might do in the coming weeks, and that's always been our greatest challenge. But we have better data now than we've had for years."
Army Corps of Engineers Manager Todd Lindquist said 1.5 to 3 inches of rain is expected over a large portion of the basin, with 4 to 5 inches possible in isolated areas.
Dam releases will increase from 80,000 cfs on Saturday to 85,000 cfs on Monday, 105,000 cfs on Wednesday and 120,000 cfs on Thursday, he said.
"Right now, it looks like we'll have an opportunity to hold at that 120,000 level for up to a week. That's good news because that's what we've been designing and protecting to," he said.
At the higher release rates, water will flow through the dam's spillway gates for the first time, as well as through the tunnels and power plant, Lindquist said.
"It is still a regulated release," he said. "We test and operate those gates routinely."
The National Guard began delivering sandbags to some neighborhoods Saturday, Spryczynatyk said. He expected the guard to have 1,500 soldiers and airmen on the ground in the Bismarck-Mandan area by the end of the day. They'll continue to work around-the-clock to produce sandbags until demand is met, he said.
The Fargo Salvation Army is sending its disaster services manager, Steve Carbno, to Bismarck today to assist in the flood response, and four additional volunteers from Fargo will arrive on Wednesday.
The Salvation Army in Bismarck requested the additional resources, said Carbno, who will assume the role of incident commander in Bismarck.
"It's obviously grown to the point that their local resources can't cover it all anymore," he told The Forum in a phone interview. "They've been at it now for a couple of weeks, so they're starting to get tired, and they just need some fresh folks in, and by default, we've done it enough that they called us right away and said, 'Hey, you guys do this all the time. Can you come out and give us some help?' "
Salvation Army officials will provide food, water and emotional and spiritual care to local residents and relief workers fighting the flood, Carbno said.
Bismarck and Mandan were mass-producing sandbags with four spider machines - two of which came from Fargo - and five chute machines, according to a guard news release.
Warford thanked Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and said the two have been in close contact about the flooding situation. Fargo has provided Bismarck with sandbags, technical assistance, HESCO barriers and pumps, Warford said.
"You name it, Fargo is really stepping up," he said.
Moorhead also provided Burleigh County with 100,000 prefilled sandbags it didn't use during the 2011 flood and 1 million empty sandbags.
Also during the news conference, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has expanded its federal emergency declaration to include seven North Dakota counties and an Indian reservation fighting rising water on the Missouri River.
The declaration would make available federal agencies and their assets to help deal with the river.
FEMA issued an emergency declaration in early April for 14 counties hit with flooding.
The governor said the declaration adds Burleigh, Emmons, Mercer, McLean, Morton, Oliver and Sioux counties and the Standing Rock Reservation.
Salvation Army in need
The Salvation Army has experienced a high number of disasters this year - including Red River Valley flooding and Twin Cities tornadoes - that have left its disaster cash reserves "all but depleted," but it won't affect the level of response in Bismarck, Carbno stated in a news release.
Donations to the Salvation Army can be sent to PO Box 1979, Fargo, ND 58107, or made by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY or online at www.thesalarmy.org. Donations should be designated "2011 Flood."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528