Red River, which was flooding in the spring, hits very low level
Water restrictions imposed by Fargo and West Fargo are working, but Fargo is still closely watching the declining flow of the Red River. The city is considering tapping into Lake Ashtabula near Valley City, N.D., to pump water through the Sheyenn...
Water restrictions imposed by Fargo and West Fargo are working, but Fargo is still closely watching the declining flow of the Red River. The city is considering tapping into Lake Ashtabula near Valley City, N.D., to pump water through the Sheyenne River into the Red. The process has to start two to three weeks before the water is needed.
"We're seeing some of the lowest flows we've seen in a long time, but we're still nowhere near our drought flows," said Greg Wiche, director of the U.S. Geological Survey in Bismarck.
"It's been relatively wet since 1993, so it makes the Red look exceptionally dry right now."
The water flow was 368 cubic feet per second at noon Friday, more than 1,000 less than three weeks ago.
"Once it gets below 200 cfs (cubic feet per second), we'd start looking at making a request to Lake Ashtabula," said Fargo enterprise director Bruce Grubb.
Fargo is one of five cities with a permit to access the lake. It would have to submit a request to the State Water Commission, which turns it over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which then releases the water.
Fargo has dropped its water usage to about 18 million gallons a day, down 10 percent from the 20 million gallons pumped before watering restrictions went into effect, Grubb said.
West Fargo is staying around 3.5 million gallons a day, dropping from about 4 million gallons, said Barry Johnson, the city's public works director.
West Fargo uses underground wells for its water supply and also has a permit for Lake Ashtabula, a man-made lake designed for flood control and water supply.
The last time Fargo tapped into the lake was in 1988, a year with an average Red River water flow of 203.8 cubic feet per second, according to statistics from the Geological Survey's Web site.
The city received water from Lake Ashtabula from mid-August to late-September 1992, but it was because of poor Red River water quality, said Bob White, water administrator for the State Water Commission.
When Fargo tapped into the lake in 1988, the city was concerned that the supply "would be exhausted within a year to 18 months under present (drought) conditions," according to an Aug. 18, 1988, Forum article.
In July 1988, the Red River flow slowed to an average of 63 cubic feet per second, with 14 days in the month having a flow of fewer than 50 cubic feet per second, Geological Survey records show.
Wednesday's flow was 393 cubic feet per second, compared to a flow of 15 cubic feet per second on July 26, 1988, records show.
North Dakota "suffered more from the 1988 drought than any other state," according to a Dec. 31, 1989, Associated Press article.
"We've all been conditioned by 15 pretty wet years," Wiche said. "Yes, the flows are decreasing, but they aren't to the lows we had in the drought years."
But the water level is the "lowest it's been in the last five or six years, at least," said Lynn Kennedy, hydro/meteorological technician at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
During the flood of 1997, the flow of the Red River in April reached an average of 17,920 cubic feet per second, well above the average of 1,980 for the month, according to USGS records since 1901.
This spring's flooding saw river flow levels that averaged about 9,068 cubic feet per second in April, according to the USGS.
The Red River crested at 37.18 feet on April 5, the third-highest crest in the past 100 years. USGS records show the flow that day was 19,800 cubic feet per second, the highest flow ever recorded in April.
This month, the highest recorded flow was 1,240 cubic feet per second on July 1.
The lowest flow was on July 24 at 330 cubic feet per second.
If the flow continues to decline and Fargo needs to tap into Lake Ashtabula, the lake would not be in danger of drying up, said Jake Gust, superintendent of the Sheyenne Diversion.
"Theoretically it doesn't change the (lake) flow very much," he said.
July was headed toward the record books as one of the top 10 driest Julys for Fargo before this week's 0.9 inch of precipitation, said Dan Riddle, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
Monday's 0.22 inch and Tuesday's 0.68 inch were the only two recorded days of precipitation for the month of July up to today.
"Something like this doesn't relieve the dryness that we have or that we started to get into this summer," Riddle said.
"If this drought were to extend over the winter and into this next year, it would get serious," Gust said. "All Cass and Clay County would have a serious future problem if we get a two- or three-year drought."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541