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Jill Schramm, Minot Daily News, Published April 22 2012

Souris flood hurts river bottom landowners

VELVA, N.D. – Curt Feist of Velva views the silt that the Souris River left up to seven feet deep in places on his bottom land and realizes he’s got a lot of work ahead of him to get a crop in this spring.

The flood of 2011 was notorious for the millions of dollars in property damage from Burlington to Velva. But there’s no calculation on the additional damage to crop and hayland, although excessive moisture statewide caused more than a $1 billion in economic damages, according to North Dakota State University.

In Ward and McHenry counties, the flooding of the Souris River went far beyond the typical, short-term flooding that is expected in wet years.

Feist, whose ranch was one of the hardest hit in McHenry County, has maintained his cattle herd and hopes to get back into his fields this spring. He’s already filled a number of washouts, retrieved a pole barn that floated one and a half miles away and hauled away a mountain of debris, including hundreds of dead trees. Fourteen miles of his 36 miles of fences will need repairs.

The land still is wet this spring, although Feist believes he’ll be able to plant at least two-thirds of it. He planted nothing last year because floodwaters started rising April 5. He will not be reseeding his drowned-out alfalfa yet because a season of rest is needed to re-establish the crop.

“It’s anybody’s guess what will happen. I really don’t think there will be much there for the summer, but you never know what nature is going to do,” Feist said. He’s already been pleasantly surprised to see areas where small spears of green are coming through the silt-covered soil.

“A lot of this native hayland is pretty tough, but that was quite a flood and so long. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said Cliff Hanretty, a longtime board member of the Eaton Flood Irrigation District near Towner.

Hanretty said the Eaton project is not planning to release dammed water this spring because land still is so wet. A good deal of land had remained flooded last year until September.

“It’s going to be wait and see. I know our pastures are starting to come back a little bit,” Hanretty said, noting that pastures also experienced areas of washouts. Some roads are in such poor condition that no one can get a truck in to fill the washouts, he said.

“It’s really soft out there yet. Everything is so saturated from last year,” Hanretty said.

Along with washouts, farmers and ranchers are dealing with debris, weed growth, moss film and silt that drifted like snow in places.

“The fences really took a beating,” Hanretty said. “There’s so much debris, and it was under water so long that the steel rusted really bad.”

Areas of heavy silt create Feist’s biggest problem. Although silt can be worked into the soil, it collects heat to the point that heavy deposits could burn a crop on a sunny day. Deep silt only can be removed with heavy equipment, and finding the help has been difficult with the high demand in the region for contractor services.

“It’s going to be so expensive, I don’t know if it will pay to try to remove it,” Feist said. “We have been through a lot of these floods. It was a nuisance, but it didn’t totally destroy you. This one just wiped people out.”

The mild winter saved Feist and other ranchers along the river who lost hay and pasture to the flood. Hanretty said most ranchers were able to keep their cattle because they had unflooded pasture that produced well during the warm, moist summer and they hayed Conservation Reserve Program acres. Feist said the winter was so unseasonably warm that he pastured part of his herd all winter.

In the river bottoms above Burlington, near Baker’s Bridge, the river flood left only minor silt but a lot tree branches, cattails and other debris. The land remains too wet to seed or even to get into to clean up in some cases.

Darwyn Kleven, whose land is just below the bridge, said water remains standing in places. The past two years have been too wet to get his hay crop off, and it’s too early to tell if there will be a crop this year.

Marlo Stromberg, who farms in the area, said he believes his alfalfa did not survive. The greening up that’s occurring is a “a lot of weeds,” he said.

Stromberg said flooding on the bottom lands isn’t unusual. What was not normal was the amount of debris carried downriver by the breadth and force of the river, he said.

“Hopefully, we will never see that again in our lifetime,” he said.