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Friends of Lake Sakakawea News Updates

by Friends of Lake Sakakawea

News of Interest
Where's that water coming from?
Is the dam safe to drive over?
Do I have to hop that fence to get to the lake?
Who owns minerals under the lake?
Who are you nominating for The Tolly?
Who needs money for improvements around the lake?

Fort Peck, Garrison releases hiked
Corps release

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Missouri River Basin Water Management Division has increased releases from Fort Peck and Garrison Dams due to high inflows from rapidly melting mountain snowpack. Garrison Dam releases were stepped up from 37,000 cfs in early May to 39,000 cfs by May 23. Fort Peck Dam releases were gradually increased from 14,000 cfs in mid-May to 17,000 cfs by May 22. The Fort Peck Dam release is higher than the maximum powerhouse release, so releases are being made from both the powerhouse and spillway. Releases from Fort Peck and Garrison are expected to remain at these rates into the summer. 

Mountain snowpack peaked on April 19 in the Fort Peck reach and on April 15 in the Fort Peck to Garrison reach at 141 and 137 percent of average, respectively. “About half of the peak mountain snow has melted and is making its way to the reservoirs. Releases are being increased at Fort Peck and Garrison in response to this runoff,” said John Remus, Chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. “Mostly due to the high mountain snowpack, runoff in the upper basin during the snowmelt months of May through July is expected to be about 130 percent of average.”

As previously announced, the Corps plans to maintain higher-than-average releases from all System projects, including Gavins Point, over the next several months. “Due to higher-than-average runoff being forecast in the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa, we have increased the service level 15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) above full service to facilitate the evacuation of stored flood waters,” said Remus. Gavins Point releases are currently 40,000 cfs.

The Missouri River mainstem reservoir system (System) storage was 62.2 MAF as of May 21, occupying 6.1 MAF of the 16.3 MAF flood control zone. “More than 60 percent of the System’s flood storage is available to capture runoff from the remaining mountain snowmelt and spring and summer rainfall events,” said Remus.

Weekly updates on basin conditions, reservoir levels and other topics of interest can be viewed here:
The Corps will continue to monitor basin and river conditions, including rainfall and mountain snowmelt, and will adjust the regulation of the System based on the most up-to-date information.

To view the detailed three-week release forecast for the mainstem dams, go to

Meetings to address dam safety
Corps release

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold two public meetings to seek comments on the draft environmental assessment (EA) for addressing dam safety issues at the Snake Creek embankment, which separates Lake Sakakawea and Lake Audubon, in Garrison, ND.

The meetings will be held on Tuesday, June 19 from 6 - 8 pm at the Ramada Bismarck Hotel, 1400 East Interchange Avenue in Bismarck and on Wednesday, June 20 from 6-8pm at the Garrison City Auditorium, 800 S. Third Street in Garrison.

The public meetings will include a presentation, starting around 6:30 p.m. each evening, and an open house to provide an opportunity to ask questions about dam safety issues at the Snake Creek embankment and provide input on the draft EA. The preferred alternative outlined in the EA includes updating the current Lake Audubon Water Control Plan with a provisional operating restriction to manage lake level differences between Lake Sakakawea and Lake Audubon during drought conditions. The draft EA may be downloaded at

Below is a link with more information.

Fencing access under fire
Williston Herald

Fences have been popping up at long-standing access points to fishing holes on Lake Sakakawea, and that has made dozens of anglers in the area unhappy.

Rep. Patrick Hattlestad, R-Williston, helped arrange a meeting between some of them and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday night, to discuss the situation and what can be done about it.

Andy Anderson, owner of Scenic Sports, said he’s had upwards of 840 customers come through his store since the fences started appearing, many of whom have shared frustration about the situation with him.

“On this side of the lake, we don’t have a lot of spots,” he said. “Between Rider’s Point down by Buford and out to Lewis and Clark, there just aren’t access points on this side of the lake. We’re trying to work with the Corps to make more access areas.”

However, the Corps has begun fencing off areas where it says encroachment by members of the general public has become a problem on the properties they manage.

“A lot of the problems we had were ATVs going along the shoreline, and dumping trash,” Wade D. Spooner, Deputy Operations Project Manager for Garrison Project, told the group. Nesting habitat is also getting torn up, and cultural artifacts could be at risk as well, he suggested.

Members of the group, however, pointed out that illegal ATV activity occurs in the Badlands, too, along with littering, people going off trail when they aren’t supposed to, and other such behavior.

“You don’t see them closing the whole Badlands because of it,” one member of the audience said.

Another individual said the fencing cuts off access points that have been important for people who are handicapped, or just unable to walk as far as others for fishing or hunting access.

Some of these access points have been open for generations, others pointed out. They suggested there is widespread disappointment that grandchildren can no longer be taken to these locations, because the walk has become too far for their aging mentors to take them.

Spooner suggested that groups or volunteers who would agree to manage safe access points could help to ease the situation, but also suggested that some areas may not be appropriate to re-open, even with volunteer assistance.

“We are not providing access along a road unless there’s a parking lot,” he said. “It has to be safe access for everyone using the river.”

That doesn't include only anglers, he added. It also includes people who are there hiking, bird-watching, or other compatible uses.

That’s another important point Kent Luttschwager wanted to make. He was there representing the North Dakota Game and Fish, which leases land from the Corps for wildlife management and for a rifle range in some of the areas where complaints are being made about road closures.

“What I’m hearing are a lot of non-compatible uses,” he said.
For example, a 1,000-acre ATV park, where those who want to four-wheel could legally go, would not be OK.

“We want good access, and we want to make sure people can get in there,” he said. “But it gets difficult trying to be everything for everyone. ATVs? That is absolutely not compatible. One thousand acres to recreate (with ATVs) is not consistent with the goals of the Game and Fish Department.”
That had been a suggestion from some of the audience members. A legal space for ATVS would curtail four-wheelers ravaging spaces where they're not wanted, they suggested.
Luttschwager also recalled problems that occurred five years ago, with 60-some campers in that area, and the frustration it meant for limited staff, who suddenly found themselves dealing with free-flowing sewage and trash.

“At some point, you either put up a $500 dollar fence, or you pick up garbage all day long,” he said.

The road closures have a silver lining, Luttschwager suggested.

“If you want to have good hunting,” he said, “it’s not roads everywhere.”

That did not sit well, however, with many members of the audience, who said their families have had access to these areas for generations, and they want to bring their grandchildren to them.

“I remember driving down there just to see the wildlife and enjoy it,” one man said. “I want to do that with my grandkids. And I’d like to maybe go out with them and shoot a pheasant without walking 5 miles just to get there.”

Many did not understand why there needs to be fencing at all. It’s public land, they pointed out, sustained by public tax dollars.

“So in Hawaii, someday, will we all have to crawl around a fence to get to the beach?” one man asked.

The public pays for the lake’s maintenance with their tax dollars, another pointed out. Some felt that means they should be able to access any of the lake shore that they want to, for fishing, hunting, camping, picnics and so on.

Ultimately it was agreed that Spooner would go out with Anderson to look at recently closed access points, to figure out which might be good candidates for re-opening.

Hatlestad suggested that these points should have hours of operation, and that area fishing clubs or other volunteer groups should consider taking on leadership for cleanup days, so that the access points remain clean. Otherwise, they might be closed again.

Spooner agreed that a trial period could be considered for certain locations once he has had a chance to review them. And he also agreed to research the possibility of a sticker for handicap access, so that four-wheeler access could be allowed on a limited basis for those who truly need it.

That request came from Williams County Commissioner Barry Ramberg, who said he is concerned that handicapped individuals, many of whom may be veterans, are unable to access the lake for fishing as things stand now.

“This guy can’t walk 100 yards in the sand,” he said, pointing at an individual somewhere behind him, “but he deserves it as much as anyone else.”

Judge rules on minerals under lake
Forum Communications

A lawsuit concerning North Dakota's mineral royalties and rights reached a new decision Monday, May 21, when a judge ordered royalties totaling more than $200 million be kept by the state.

The lawsuit was filed in January by state Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, former gubernatorial candidate Paul Sorum, and others against the state of North Dakota. They are challenging the constitutionality of legislative Bill 2134, which the plaintiffs argue transfers nearly $1.76 billion in state mineral rights and another estimated $205 million in royalties to private ownership.

Monday's injunction ordered by Judge John Irby Monday prohibits the state from forfeiting those oil royalties, rents and bonus payments.

"This is a huge win," said Terrance Moore, the plaintiffs' lawyer.
The minerals of interest lie under Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir created when the Garrison Dam was built 60 years ago across the Missouri River. The dam changed the river's high water mark and the lawsuit claims the state statute gives away the rights to 108,000 acres of minerals under the lake's high water mark.

Opponents of the lawsuit say the minerals have always belonged to private property owners and the lawsuit is an infringement upon their rights.

The state Legislature ordered a review of the Missouri River's high water mark as it was before the dam was built. The review, completed by consultant Wenck Associates, shows the state owns about 10,000 more acres than the previously established 16,600 acres determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A 2009 survey used by the Department of Trust Lands shows North Dakota owns an additional estimated 15,000 acres. The $205 million in royalties the lawsuit claims the statute gives away is based off this difference in the Corps and 2009 surveys.

A public hearing on the Wenck report, which is public at, is set for June 26 in Bismarck.
The Wenck report can be adopted into the statute but it will not have any effect until the lawsuit is settled, Moore said.
Phone messages left for Attorney Matthew Sagsveen, who represents the state in the lawsuit, were not returned on Monday.

Moore said the lawsuit needs to go through a few more rounds at the state district court level before it proceeds to the North Dakota Supreme Court.