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Sakakawea group discusses low water

GARRISON, N.D. - Lake Sakakawea saw heavy spring rain and the effect of an early snowmelt in Montana this year, but officials are warning not to expect a repeat.

GARRISON, N.D. - Lake Sakakawea saw heavy spring rain and the effect of an early snowmelt in Montana this year, but officials are warning not to expect a repeat.

The message was delivered at the Friends of Lake Sakakawea annual meeting here Wednesday. The group lobbies on lake issues.

Todd Sando, an assistant engineer for the State Water Commission, said history may not repeat itself next spring and low lake levels could be a problem. The Missouri River system has not experienced what is considered normal runoff since 1999.

Lake Sakakawea is expected to fall 6 feet by March 1.

State Game and Fish Department Director Dean Hildebrand said more shoreline access is needed. He cited department surveys showing the number hours spent by shore fishermen dropped from more than 211,000 hours in 1997 to fewer than 11,000 hours in 2004.

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"Something's wrong," Hildebrand said. "People just can't get to the edge of the lake. I want access to the shoreline for one mile each side of each boat ramp. I want that."

Phil Brown, a representative of the Army Corps of Engineers' Riverdale office, said the corps has made more shoreline access available and changed the Garrison Dam power plant intake structure to help preserve cold water habitat in Lake Sakakawea. Some of the changes are "just the first step," he said.

The management of the Missouri River has been an issue of dispute between upstream states that want water for recreation and downstream states with barge traffic.

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