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Speculation continues as area awaits spring run-off

Some residents living downstream of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge have been vocal in their concerns about potential levels of the Des Lacs River, once winter temperatures loosen their grip on the northern end of Ward County and the snow begins to melt.

4/24/13 (Wed)


Water trickling in from the North . . . Water has just started trickling into Unit 3
of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, immediately west of Kenmare
and north of Ward County Road 1, which must be a welcome sight for
these Canada goose pairs staking out their nesting sites on flax bales.


By Caroline Downs

Some residents living downstream of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge have been vocal in their concerns about potential levels of the Des Lacs River, once winter temperatures loosen their grip on the northern end of Ward County and the snow begins to melt.

“There’s a lot of speculation about what’s going to happen, but we’ve been waiting for a thaw like everybody else,” Des Lacs NWR manager Chad Zorn said Monday.

At this point, no water is leaving the refuge, according to Zorn. In fact, the only “open” water appears to be in Unit 3, immediately west of Kenmare on the north side of Ward County Road 1.

“Unit 3 filled over the weekend,” said Zorn, “but that’s a very small impoundment, with a total of about 100 acre feet.”

In fact, Zorn was surprised to see that unit hold water at this point and believed the water had come from Rodin’s Coulee upstream. “The water seems to be finding its way through the ice and snow there,” he said.

However, no other water appeared to be flowing through the refuge, with the main Des Lacs lakes still frozen.

“Obviously, we’re wanting to move some water,” Zorn said in response to downstream concerns. “You can shop around to find the type of forecast you want, but if the weather holds the way it’s supposed to this week, we could be moving a lot of water.”

Zorn was referring to some forecasts predicting highs in the 50s and 60s in the coming days, after near record-setting lows in the teens on Sunday and Monday nights.

Other factors will play a role in the spring run-off from the Des Lacs NWR this year. For one thing, Zorn noted that much of the snow has settled, with a layer of ice formed at ground level that contains a concentration of the moisture from the snowpack.

Then there’s the condition of the soil itself and the depth of the frost seal. “I’m hearing a lot of variance about that,” said Zorn. “One farmer will tell me it’s down so many inches and another will say there is no frost in the ground. At this point, we’re not sure how much moisture will run off and how much will soak in.”

At the same time, a great deal of snow still covers the ground across the coteau region north and west of the refuge. “And that’s where our water comes from,” Zorn said.

As of Tuesday morning, no measurable spring run-off was flowing from the refuge down the Des Lacs River channel.

The snow cover has kept the Boat Dock road closed through this week as well. “We don’t want to see that road torn up,” Zorn said, adding he planned to keep the road closed until drifts blocking the road melted and the road surface dried. “We will check that road out this week, though.”

The South Lake Road, much of which was widened, re-graded and re-graveled in a project done last year, is open again to public traffic for the season. “That road is completely open,” said Zorn, “and in good shape.”

Anyone with further questions about water conditions at the Des Lacs NWR should contact Zorn at 701-385-4046 ext. 225.


No open water here . . . Looking east toward Kenmare from
the Des Lacs Refuge observation point shows the middle Des Lacs Lake
to be completely frozen over, just one week away from the first of May.
As yet, no water is flowing out the south end of the refuge.  A record low
temperature of 13 degrees was recorded overnight Sunday, with
a near record low of 16 degrees Monday night.  The forecast has
promise of near 60-degree temperatures for the weekend, possibly
propelling this area into a long-awaited spring thaw.