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Draft Souris River Study Recommendations Released for Public Comment

Date

The International Souris River Study Board has released its draft report and recommendations for public comment. The report, “Managing Water Supply and Flood Control in the Souris River Basin,” recommends potential reservoir operation options to improve flood control and water supply.

The public comment period begins August 16, 2021, and runs through September 7, 2021. You may comment online, via email or by mail. Details can be found at the board’s website at ijc.org/en/srsb.

During this period, the study board will hold a virtual public meeting and gather feedback on the report to be compiled and considered for inclusion in its final report to the International Joint Commission (IJC). Registration information will be posted at the board’s website at ijc.org/en/srsb.

The study board was established by the IJC in 2017 in response to a request by Canadian and United States governments. The request was precipitated by an unprecedented 2011 flood in the Souris River basin. The basin is part of the Prairie Pothole Region and stretches across Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada, and extends into North Dakota in the United States.

The governments asked the IJC to coordinate the full completion of the 2013 IJC Plan of Study, a post-flood activity. As part of this, the IJC was asked to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the Operating Plan contained in Annex A to the 1989 International Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America for Water Supply and Flood Control in the Souris River Basin. Among other items, the agreement coordinates the operation of certain dams and reservoirs in the basin.

Although the study was precipitated by the historic 2011 flood, the basin also frequently experiences low water supply periods. The Souris basin is currently experiencing very dry conditions due to below average precipitation in the fall and winter of 2020. Spring runoff also was below normal this year throughout the basin and summer conditions continue to be dry.

The study board findings and recommendations cover five themes:  

  1. Reviewing the performance of the operating plan in the 1989 agreement  

  1. Strengthening water supply and flood control benefits  

  1. Improving data collection and management  

  1. Addressing other water management challenges in the basin 

  1. Building on the study’s engagement and outreach including initiating a new approach to engaging with Indigenous peoples in both countries. 

Study board leaders wrote in a transmittal letter to the IJC that they believe the draft report responds in a practical and comprehensive manner to the challenge issued by the governments of Canada and the United States to identify opportunities to improve flood control and water supply security in the international basin. They added their belief that the draft report reflects and reinforces the two countries’ long history of sound, cooperative management of the basin’s waters. 

The report and its recommendations were developed from an expert review of operating plans of structures contained in the 1989 agreement. A Public Advisory Group, Resource Agency Advisory Group and Indigenous advisers also provided substantive input for the study board’s considerations in the development of the report. Public meetings and advisory group workshops were carried out on numerous occasions throughout the study.  

Study experts analyzed the current operating plan using a range of scenarios in a reservoir simulation model. Potential alternatives to the current plan were evaluated for those scenarios in the model to determine if there could be improvements to the operation of the reservoirs. The report describes both the strengths of the existing plan and potential benefits and impacts of the refinements studied.       

Canadian agencies involved in the study include Environment and Climate Change Canada, Manitoba Sustainable Development and Saskatchewan Water Security Agency. U.S. agencies include the US Geological Survey, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Department of Water Resources (formerly the State Water Commission), North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and North Dakota Department of Health. 

Following a review of comments from the public, the draft report will be revised as applicable and submitted to the International Joint Commission. The Commission will have until January 2022 to review the report and may conduct additional public consultations before delivering its final report and recommendations to the federal governments. 

Contact: 

Bruce Davison, Canadian Study Manager, International Souris River Study Board 
Phone: 306-975-5788 Email: bruce.davison@canada.ca 

Gregg Wiche, US Study Manager, International Souris River Study Board 
Phone: 701-250-7433 Email: gwiche@usgs.gov