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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published May 23 2013

Cavalier residents allowed to return at 7 a.m. Friday

Residents of Cavalier, N.D., will be allowed to return home Friday morning.

Pembina County Emergency Manager Andrew Kirking says the water has been dropping steadily since mid-day Wednesday. He says residents will be allowed to return at 7 a.m. Friday, with the understanding they might have to leave again if conditions worsen.

The community of 1,300 was evacuated Tuesday evening as a safety precaution as authorities monitored Renwick Dam, the 1961 structure holding back an unprecedented amount of water coming from the west through the Tongue River watershed.

“We are seeing water recede at Renwick Dam. It’s dropped a foot since 6 p.m. Wednesday,” Kirking said this morning.

The North Dakota National Guard and the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service are assisting local officials in monitoring conditions at Renwick Dam.

Officials also checked the integrity of the dam and of an emergency levee that was built to keep floodwaters from overwhelming an emergency spillway, according to Kirking.

Cavalier schools and businesses remain closed today. Cavalier High School graduation will be held Sunday afternoon, as originally scheduled.

The city of Cavalier and Pembina County offices will remain closed until Tuesday. Essential emergency personnel will continue their duties to allow residents return to their homes. Monday is the Memorial Day holiday.

In the meantime, all roads into Cavalier remain closed, except for authorized people. N.D. Highways 18 and 5 remain closed in Cavalier and Highway 5 is closed in nearby Neche, N.D., and at the U.S.-Canada border crossing north of Neche.

While water levels are falling, Cavalier officials say the community faces numerous challenges in the days ahead. Here is a rundown, according to Barb Whelan, Pembina County assistant state’s attorney:

- Renwick Dam is still at critical stage.

“Although the dam and the constructed dike appear to be functioning well, it is important to remember that there is a significant amount of water that is being held at the dam,” she said. “The integrity of Renwick Dam is also contingent upon the numerous upstream dams continuing to operate as designed. Failure of any of these systems would still result in a significant flooding event for the City of Cavalier and outlying areas.”

It is projected that it will take until the weekend for the water level to fall below the constructed dike at Renwick Dam.

“Because of this concern, residents should remain on alert that the possibility of an emergency evacuation due to dam failure is still a possibility,” she said. “In the event of breach, residents should be prepared to evacuate the city immediately.”

- Overland flooding is significantly stressing Cavalier’s sewer system. When residents return, they are being directed to drain sump pumps to drain outside to storm sewers. Draining sump pumps, downspouts or other sources of surface runoff or groundwater to sanitary sewers is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

- Residents are being encouraged to conserve water. Water table saturation is expected to last for another 10 to 12 days, which stresses the public sewer system. If it becomes overtaxed, the local water system may have to be shut down to avoid sewer backup.

- With significant water issues continuing throughout northeast North Dakota, residents are encouraged to remain alert for flooding for several more days.

Neche, Grafton threat easing

In Neche, N.D., the Pembina River was at 21.5 feet at 11:45 a.m. today, down slightly from a peak Wednesday of 21.81 feet.

The National Weather Service in Grand Forks forecasts the river to gradually decrease over the next several days, dropping below the major flood level of 20.5 feet sometime Saturday. However, it may be the middle of next week before it drops below the moderate flood stage of 19 feet.

In Grafton, N.D., the Park River has dropped about a half foot since reaching 16.2 feet overnight Wednesday. The river was at 15.7 feet at 9:30 a.m. today.

The weather service earlier had forecast a crest of 16.5 feet, just below the record of 16.52, set in 1950. However, the crest was lowered Wednesday to 16.4 feet.

Contractors worked for about four hours early Thursday to add some clay to fortify a couple of areas along the dike where some seepage had been observed, according to City Administrator Nick Ziegelmann.

“We wanted to make sure we’re taking all the steps we needed to protect the city,” he said.

The work was completed by about 6 a.m.

“It looks as though we crested last night and it’s falling,” he said. “It’s a good feeling once you get to this point, but we still have a day or a day and a half before we get down to those levels where we begin to feel comfortable.”

Grafton still is seeking volunteers to monitor the emergency dike protecting the city. While shifts are filled until midnight, dike walkers are needed overnight and through Friday. For more information, call Grafton City Hall at (701) 352-1561.

Elsewhere, the Forest River at Minto, N.D., was at 5.14 feet at 9:15 a.m. today. It appeared to have peaked late Wednesday at 5.78 feet, just below minor flood stage of 6 feet.