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  1. maverick
    June 9, 2011 • 2:57 am

    I am very glad that Senator Hoeven has started to ask questions, and hope that he asks some really hard questions of the Corps of Engineers. They have been feeding the State a line for way to many years. Lord knows that Berg won’t do anything.

  2. Jean
    June 9, 2011 • 3:07 am

    Thanks for a well-researched and timely story. I hope more transparency on the part of the Corp and any others who played a significant role in this story will indeed lead to improved management of the river. Kudos to the Great Plains Examiner!

  3. Jarv
    June 9, 2011 • 8:11 am

    Excellent story!! We need this kind of reporting in this area.

  4. ted
    June 9, 2011 • 8:30 am

    Great journalism. Thanks.

  5. Charlie
    June 9, 2011 • 10:01 am

    I am glad to see someone is asking the hard questions and doing some additional research. Communities up and down the Mighty Missouri have a lot of unanswered questions right now. I hope for the Army Corp of Engineers sake, we do not find out they were protecting endangered birds and fish, when we should have been protecting endangered homes up and down the Missouri River. The fact of the matter is, there is plenty of blame to go around and some of the blame is rightfully justified!!

  6. Andi
    June 9, 2011 • 10:43 am

    Well, so far you’re living up to your claims, Great Plains Examiner. This is a story I’ve been waiting to read from someone in the Bismarck media, and you produced it. Thank you for a well researched, timely article addressing one of the biggest issues and topics of conversation in town right now. I look forward to continued coverage of these issues.

  7. Greg G
    June 9, 2011 • 1:03 pm

    I suppose that the corps primary failing is their inability to see record breaking rainfall months in advance. Lets hold everyone accountable for failures of precognition! Fines or prison sentences?

    • Claudia
      June 9, 2011 • 9:34 pm

      No Greg, the Corps primary failing is the inability to do their job right….what happened in March and April…BEFORE the rains??? Hhhmmmm???

      • Tom
        June 10, 2011 • 1:20 am

        The Corps not doing their job right? How long has the damn been in operation and how many floods have occured in that time period. The article states that dam started operating in 1967 but in real-life, it started operating in 1954 when it was finished. I think the COE has done a very good job in flood control since before the dam was built, south Bismarck was part of the Missouri River every spring. My dad used to fish where the Civic Center is now.

        • Matt Bunk
          June 10, 2011 • 11:54 am

          From what the Corps’ records indicate, the dam wasn’t fully operational until 1967, which is when they first began tracking pool and release data for comparison purposes. A Corps’ official confirmed that was the case.

          • Tom
            June 11, 2011 • 2:44 pm

            It may have not been “FULLY” operational but it was doing what it was meant to do the second they dumped the last load of dirt on it in 1954. I believe the power plant is what became operational in 1967.

          • Matt Bunk
            June 11, 2011 • 3:07 pm

            That’s probably true, Tom, but the data on record with the Corps of Engineers goes back to only 1967. So that’s the only comparative data that was available.

  8. Ryan S.
    June 9, 2011 • 5:04 pm

    Great story – you are my new local news publisher!!

  9. jamie
    June 9, 2011 • 9:15 pm

    how soon we forget. 2 months ago levees were purposely breeched to save major southern missouri river cities from flooding. It’s pretty hard to imagine a greater outflow on our portion of the missouri if it is going to increase flooding in cities with a much larger population further south. Birds had nothing to do with this. Extreme amounts of moisture if a short time span was the culprit. Next time include all of the data concerning the actual circumstances that led us to here instead of trying to prey on already raw emotions.
    BTW I am happy that another newspaper is trying to get a foothold in the community.

    • Matt Bunk
      June 9, 2011 • 10:02 pm

      Jamie: You make a very good point, but I want to clear up that I am not trying to prey on raw emotions. I asked the Corps if the flooding in the upper basin was a result of storing water early in the spring to save the lower basin communities, which were flooding in early April (which I did point out in the story). But the Corps has refused to say that’s what they were doing. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that holding water upriver didn’t save those cities to the south from flooding – many of them are still facing flood danger now, along with additional cities upriver.

      • jamie
        June 9, 2011 • 10:21 pm

        Matt I agree that you asked those questions but you also make sure that your headline and tone of the story is about endangered species. You did a great job of getting local people to vent their frustration with the corps. I happen to disagree with the tone of the article. I didn’t think I was attacking you and apologize if that was the impression.

        • Matt Bunk
          June 9, 2011 • 10:25 pm

          No apology necessary. It’s just a discussion of the issues. I’m actually really glad you commented. Keep it up.

  10. Tami
    June 9, 2011 • 9:45 pm

    What the Corp is failing to focus on is that there doesn’t seem to have been a plan for the unbelievable snowfall accumulation over the season in Montana. We were out in Montana twice and it did not stop snowing the entire time. So since November the precipitation there has been much higher than usual it doesn’t take precognition to recognize that this pattern could have occurred into the spring as well and to have better planned not only for the run off but for the rain that was likely to come as well. This should have been considered way back in November when it all started as January wasn’t early enough and the safe plan would have been to plan for the rain that was likely coming. Now homeowners are losing homes they have worked their entire lives to build, families have been uprooted, and there has been little help available for answering questions or providing services for families. I am in a camper with three children and when I have asked what kind of assistance is coming for displaced families I have been told by emergency management that this is still the response phase assistance comes in the recovery phase. Needless to say, that is not helpful to families that right now are in survival phase!

  11. DAVE
    June 9, 2011 • 10:56 pm

    Hello, flood zone people, build somewhere else.

  12. Tom
    June 10, 2011 • 1:10 am

    Yep, let’s blame the COE on the record rainfall in Montana. Better yet, let’s blame George Bush for it. I have sympathy and compassion for the people that are being flooded but the COE has done a pretty good job of flood control for over 50 years. Let’s place the blame where it belongs…Mother Nature. Before the record rainfall, there was storage room in the reservoirs for the mountain snow melt.

  13. Celia
    June 10, 2011 • 11:36 am

    Wow, this article smacks of real journalism. It’s a nice change for this area. Thanks for the story!

  14. North Dakota Legislature demands answers from Corps | Great Plains Examiner
    June 10, 2011 • 1:13 pm

    [...] day before the Legislature sent the letter, the Great Plains Examiner published a story that showed the Corps of Engineers had been unwilling to explain why water managers withheld [...]

  15. Tom
    June 10, 2011 • 2:17 pm

    The only ones who hold any blame for the houses lost to the flood, are those who built or bought homes which are basically located in the river. They should accept the responsiblity for thier choices instead of pointing fingers at someone else.

    • john
      June 10, 2011 • 7:29 pm

      I agree with Tom, I you look north of bismarck on the west side of the river many of the houses are 20 to 30 feet higher than the river level in a normal season. If you build a large house thats only five to ten feet abouve the river you are asking for trouble. They are totally to blame for their own stupidity.

      • no where near the river
        June 13, 2011 • 3:43 pm

        Hello…I live over 10 miles from the river, not directly in any flood plain on any map and within the next week I am losing my house to this flood. Before we call anymore people ‘stupid’ check a map and pray for us that do not have the luxury of building a river front vacation home….there is no reason I should be going through this or my neighbors. Think of all the farm ground that is going under – where is your next meal coming from?? This effects alot of people that have nothing to do with the river on a normal basis. All of our creeks are backing up and causing yet another issue.

  16. Kurt W. Webber
    June 11, 2011 • 7:07 am


    In August 2006 Gov. Hoeven met with the Corps of Engineers at Garrison concerning the low level of the reservoir (1815). The fisherman and other recreationalist were angry because of the low water levels in Sakakawea. The question that needs to be answered is if the reservior was at 1815 on March 2011, would there have been enough storage to accomodate the high runoff from Montana and Wyoming we are now experiencing? The way I read the Corps data you posted, the amount not release last fall for Piping Plovers would have made little difference.

    • Matt Bunk
      June 11, 2011 • 10:41 am

      This spring, Lake Sakakawea was 15 feet below the storage limit of Garrison. If Lake Sakakawea was at the level you mentioned, the reservoir would have been able to rise 40 feet higher without forcing water downriver. I’m not sure if that would have completely saved Bismarck-Mandan from flooding, but it would have given the Corps far more flexibility to manage the releases without going to 150,000 cubic feet per second. The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s not just Garrison that we’re dealing with here; several other dams/reservoirs were in a similar situation as Garrison/Sakakawea (holding a lot of water this spring). Keeping them all at high levels limited the flexibility of the system as a whole. So the answer is I don’t know if it would have eliminated all flood danger, but there’s no doubt that having 25 more feet of storage space at Sakakawea would have limited the severity of the flood.
      Lastly, the Corps is required to limit the flows from the dam to help the plovers during the spring and early summer months while they are nesting along the river. By fall, most plovers migrate away from the upper reaches of the river.

  17. Mike
    June 11, 2011 • 9:27 am

    I agree with the others, its about time we have a news source that does ask questions and doesn’t fluff everything. The local media seems to be scared to challenge the local government on issues. I will be reading my local news on this website. No more bismarcktribune!

  18. Travis J
    June 11, 2011 • 11:24 am

    I enjoyed the article and my best wishes go out to this paper it is time we get and honest report besides a bunch of smoke being blown by other local news sources.

  19. Tom
    June 11, 2011 • 2:38 pm

    Instead of looking to find blame somewhere about the flooding, why not send your investigative reporters to find out why we’re being gouged at the gas pump? The Tribune doesn’t seem to want to do this.

  20. Kurt W. Webber
    June 12, 2011 • 12:22 am

    Matt: The point I was attempting to make in my first posting above was the pressure ND placed on the Corps to hold the reservoir at a higher level (my reference to the 2006 Garrison meeting when the reservoir was at 1815).

    At there is a diagram that shows the base of the annual flood control zone for Garrison Reservoir as 1837.7. Now look at the Statistics chart for Years 1967 to 2010 and note the elevation for March of 2011 was 1837.7. The Corps did met there management target.

    At the above website note the May rainfall map. My understanding it was the above average rainfall that filled the flood control zone. If you want to do some investigating, research how the 1837.7 base for the flood control zone was established and what input our ND leadership had in establishing that elevation.

    • Matt Bunk
      June 12, 2011 • 2:24 am

      Thanks, Kurt. Your point is well-taken and I’ve seen those statistics. The March levels of the reservoir weren’t the point of contention, though. It’s more about the fact that by May 5, the reservoir had risen to 1848 feet, about 10 feet above the base flood control zone and, actually, closer to the record high than the average for that time of year. The lingering rainstorms in Montana came later, forcing these record releases. So the most pressing question so far, for me at least, is why releases were so low from late March until early May. Stay tuned, though, because I am definitely with you on reporting why the levels must be maintained so high.

  21. cmberg
    June 12, 2011 • 5:51 pm

    Matt, GREAT job on your articles! I look forward to meeting you this week, and keep up the GREAT work!

  22. Pipingplovers are worthless
    June 13, 2011 • 1:18 pm

    those birds are annoying and are probably extinct now.. so we wont have to worry about them anymore

  23. Corps’ Missouri River chief says she operated by the book | Great Plains Examiner
    June 13, 2011 • 2:32 pm

    [...] period between March 20 and May 6 is likely to get the most attention in what the military calls an “after-action review.” During [...]

  24. Midwest Katrina: Did the Army Corps of Engineers Cause the Midwest Flooding of 2011? | All American Blogger
    June 14, 2011 • 5:32 am

    [...] investigation by the Great Plains Examiner revealed troubling information: Corps of Engineers officials denied both of those assertions and [...]

  25. zztop
    June 18, 2011 • 11:01 am

    The corps kept the lake high for agricultural and industrial reasons. Does that mean that the kept the lake high for the oil industry in the western part of the state for fracking purposes. Maybe the birds had nothing to do with it.

    • Jody Fart-hat
      June 21, 2011 • 12:23 pm

      nice worthless statement..

    • Zico
      June 22, 2011 • 11:33 pm

      The birds didn’t have anything to do with it… People just like a reason to be angry.

  26. Jean
    June 18, 2011 • 3:26 pm

    John McMahon of the Corps in a Guest Op-Ed to the Great Plains Examiner published the following day, says that at no time in the past year has the river been managed for endangered species.

    I too would be VERY interested to see how the 1837.7 figure was arrived at, and suspect it has more to do with political pressure to salvage our upstream recreation and downstream navigation interests than saving any bird. Be careful what you ask for, eh?

  27. First we told you, now we’ll show you | Great Plains Examiner
    June 19, 2011 • 3:04 pm

    [...] of you read the story. Dozens of you commented on [...]

  28. Are Thousands of People Flooded on the Missouri Because of Fish and Bird Habitats? |
    June 19, 2011 • 11:50 pm

    [...] not the top priority of the network of dams constructed by taxpayers?Near Missouri Valley, IowaMatt Bunk of the Great Plains Examiner first wrote June 9 about the growing suspicion of hard-hit residents of Bismarck, North Dakota is [...]

  29. Drew
    June 21, 2011 • 11:49 pm

    Matt: great article. an important not to be overlooked takeaway “The COE has been instructed to save water in the reservoirs during spring so it can be sold to agricultural and industrial interests year-round”. In February 2011 Sando challenged the constitutionality of the COE new practice (2010) of charging for use of Lake Sakakawea water. Seems like a conflict of interest and could have an effect of higher water levels. Your thoughts?

  30. Why didn’t the Corps release more water, sooner? | Winterized
    June 22, 2011 • 9:04 am

    [...] reporter also did an earlier story in which he analyzed releases from Garrison Dam, rather than just reporting he said-she said accounts. He found that the U.S. Corps of Engineers [...]

  31. Zico
    June 22, 2011 • 11:12 pm

    I work for the Corps in Threatened and Endangered Species… And we do what we can for the birds, but we don’t even sacrifice a whole parking lot for them, let alone dangerously alter water releases.

  32. Paul Schepers
    June 24, 2011 • 12:41 pm

    I’m from northern Missouri and have been asking the same questions Mr. Bunk addresses in this article. There hasn’t been a single thing reported in our local print or broadcast media outlets on the reasons why the corp waited so long to begin releasing water from these reservoirs along the upper Missouri River basin at the current rates. I had to search the internet to find this article and am very grateful for the work Mr. Bunk did on this article. Well done. I am still wondering how long it took for the Corp to react to the record rains in May. The article states that the Garrison dam spillway was opened “in June”. When “in June” and would an earlier release have made a difference?

  33. Karbine98
    June 30, 2011 • 9:15 pm

    I’m an anesthetist in Omaha and live near Crescent, Iowa. THE FLOOD has really made life difficult for this family. Now I get to spend call nights in house since detour makes drive way too long for emergencies. Bureacracies are smoothering the very life out of this once great nation. I shun conspiracy theories, but seems this is just more of the lethargic incompetence of BIG GOVERNMENT and as usual no one will be held responsible. Barney Frank and Cris Dodd malfeasance almost destroyed the housing industry of this nation and not even a slap on the hand (or on butt in case of Barney). Sometimes even paranoics have real enemies and I think this country/society has alot of people who champion the notion of de-development of the country. The common folk have no right to luxuries such as air conditioning, personal vehicles, acerages, etc. It isn’t just the extreme enviro-leftists now who spout this garbage about how the US is raping mother-goddess earth-gaia. More and more “mainstream” enviros want us to slide backwards into
    a much starker, “simpler” life–assuming they get to lord over us for our own good and live in the lap of comfort–like the hollywood hypocrites with carbon footprints that dwarf some entire communities. From one end of this country to the other, there have been so many stories in the last ~35-40 years of various gov’t agencies destroying private citizens lives and livelihoods for inane and capricious goals. I was always a very obedient type, supportive of authority, but I and many of my cohorts, colleagues, and other subjects are becoming very, very disgusted with BIG BROTHER choking the life out of us and our grand-kids futures. GOD SAVE AND HEAL OUR LAND, Greg

  34. 10 Million People Put in Danger to Protect Piping Plovers? : Black Bear Blog
    July 1, 2011 • 7:48 pm

    [...] though the Army Corp says they were merely following the Master Plan, others disagree. Two bird species, the piping plover and the least tern, migrate to the Missouri River basin [...]

  35. Dave Kwikkel
    July 3, 2011 • 11:25 pm

    I also run a Marina like the gentleman from Bismarck in Decatur Nebraska. My brother was told at a spring meeting by the COE that there was ten cubic miles of water stored in the resevoirs going into spring. In middle March we did some work along the river and feed our ducks on sandbars that had formed to the entrance to the marina. We commented how we might have to dredge with the drag-line to start the boating season. The water level was so low in the river in mid-march, ten cubic miles were already in storage, and 140% snow pack in the mountains. Maybe just maybe some pressure relief on the the swollen reservoirs should have been taking place earlier this spring. In 2004-2005 the water level was so low we had to push boats out of the marina. My guess is they were trying to save water to avoid the lean years and they got burnt bad! South Dakota and their politics for recreation and tourism starved Iowa and Nebraska mid decade and now we are getting burnt again because they have too much. That manual has politics written all over it.

  36. Lucy B
    July 5, 2011 • 7:59 am

    It might help to take into account the bigger picture. That protected agricultural land is fertile because of the floods that carried nutrients to the soil. Flood plains flood. If not last year, sometime in the past. It happens and it will happen again. Someday. No matter how straight those creeks going through Northwest Missouri were made, the chance that nature will re-claim or at least re-arrange back to the natural flow is excellent.
    I suspect it may be a water distribution plan that only the earth elements know about! We have piped water from various sources to assuage the big cities’ thirst for years. Might be a way to rearrange the waters of the earth.
    The USA is not the only place experience major flooding. Could it be a balancing act for the earth and people really don’t have a lot of say? Nature will probably win in the end.

  37. Enid
    July 9, 2011 • 6:03 pm

    On the first sentence it seems to look like it were valid but if you compare it i cant see the sense of this..

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