Sask. premier weighs in on Minot flood report

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is defending the way the province operated its dams before a massive flood hit the city of Minot, N.D., in June.

Role of Saskatchewan dams questioned in North Dakota TV probe

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is defending the way the province operated its dams before a massive flood hit the city of Minot, N.D., in June.

Wall was responding Monday to a report by a North Dakota TV station that suggested the Saskatchewan agency in charge of three dams could have done a better job handling water releases earlier this year.

If the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority hadn't acted as it did, "what comes to Minot potentially is even worse," Wall said.

More than 11,000 people were displaced from their homes in Minot, N.D., in June after heavy rains sent a wall of water through the Souris River system.

The floodwaters were fed by water releases from three reservoirs in southeast Saskatchewan — at the Rafferty, Alameda and Boundary dams.

Officials with the Watershed Authority said at the time the dams were full and the water had to be released.

But in a recent investigative report, Minot TV station KX News said the Canadian authorities could have handled things differently, and if they had, the city might not have experienced its worst flood in history.

News anchor Jim Olson, who headed the investigation, said Canada lived up to all its international obligations, but if the three dams had released more water in May and early June, it would have been easier to hold water back when the rains peaked.

"So it was just this little dance hoping that they wouldn't get a big rainstorm or anything," Olson told CBC News. "And then of course in mid-June, the big rainstorm came and it was this billion-dollar flood downstream," he said.

Minot had levees, but there was just too much water, and on June 22, the levees were breached, flooding a large section of the city of 40,000.

"Not that I'm saying that somebody made an error .…I'm saying that there needs to be some changes made in the management compact between the U.S. and Canada," Olson said.

However, speaking to reporters Monday, Wall said he's confident water officials made the right decisions.

"We rely on officials who are cautious and careful and simply said 'Look, we've got to make sure the integrity of those dams [is] protected."

According to John Fahlman, Saskatchewan's Watershed Authority's acting director of basin operations, hindsight is 20/20, and controlling outflows from multiple dams is a complex task.

"Really, it is the complexity of the basin. We're not dealing with simply one reservoir. We have three different reservoirs and three different streams," Fahlman said.

The idea that the high outflows discussed in the TV report could have been maintained before the June rains hit can also be challenged, he said.

An analogy can be made to a bathtub that's draining out water. With less water in the tub, it starts to drain slower, and that's essentially what was happening with the Saskatchewan reservoirs, he said.

Even so, Fahlman said, the watershed authority welcomes ideas about how it can do its job better. It's putting together a review and will submit a report on the flooding.

In Saskatchewan, the spring melt and subsequent heavy rains flooded large sections of farmland and forced hundreds of residents from their homes.