Corps’ drought plan threatens promised supply

Knorr draws that precious water from a pump station on the McClusky Canal into a network of underground pipes and 37 pivot systems that sprinkle fresh water across his nearly 4,000 acres between Coleharbor and Turtle Lake.
Because of it, he can count on twice the yield and income to pay down a $2,000-per-acre investment in addition to water and electric fees.
What’s afoot is the corps’ decision to create a first-time plan to protect the dam works’ infrastructure that separates the enormous Lake Sakakawea from its smaller sidekick, Lake Audubon, in a drought scenario.
The two waters are the same, only cleaved by the Snake Creek Embankment that holds the pumping station that sends water from the big lake to the smaller one.
The embankment is a critical causeway that carries four lanes of Highway 83 on its surface, the Canadian Pacific rail and mammoth steel towers that bear electric transmission wires across the water.
The problem the corps hopes to forestall is what could happen when Lake Sakakawea drops extremely low in a drought while Lake Audubon remains at its standard operating pool.
Back in 2005— in hindsight a year that doesn’t seem particularly remarkable for being dry — Lake Sakakawea dropped to an elevation of 1,806 feet.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the embankment, Lake Audubon clocked in at its usual 1,847-foot elevation, the level that’s maintained every summer, all summer to provide water out its rear door into the 73.6-mile McClusky Canal.
That 41-foot difference in elevation from one side to the other was the biggest swing in the lake’s history.
Nelson said the low water did allow the corps to observe the performance of 13 relief wells — installed at the time of construction on the Lake Sakakawea side in the ‘50s precisely to relieve that unequal water pressure.

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