Anyone who witnessed the Souris River surging out of its banks earlier this year in the most damaging flood the basin has ever experienced, knows the river's appearance has changed immensely. The meandering Souris is now well back within its banks, bearing no resemblance to its sinister behavior of the previous months.
Is the Souris back to normal?
Not even close said a Minoter who has seen the Souris from a canoe, waded through long stretches of it, sampled it, studied it, researched it, written about it, conducted classes about it and been flooded by it.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - This year’s Souris River flood has been a classroom topic for Central Campus science teacher Joe Super, left. Super and his students have developed a profile of the river. Central Campus students Tyler Steenerson, center, and Kelli Schmidt receive instruction from Super.
Joe Super knows the characteristics of the Souris River. The enthusiastic physical science teacher at Minot's Central Campus has a master's degree from North Dakota State University in Environmental Conservation Science.
"My project was from 30 miles north of the Canadian border to Lake Darling. I sampled the river 29 times," said Super.
In addition, Super has led numerous Central Campus science students through Project Riverwatch, a statewide project where students monitor water quality on various rivers in North Dakota. Because of participation in that project, Super and his students have extracted samples from the Souris in Minot before and after the flood. The post-flood study of the Souris was quite revealing.
"There was nothing, nothing," responded Super when asked what was in the samples of water taken from the river by his students this fall. "We just saw a complete scouring of the bottom. The flood totally wiped out anything living in the riparian area where it hit. We've seen drastic changes. Changes in the bottom, changes in the sediment and the macro-invertebrate population. It's been really eye-opening to see this big change."
The rising Souris caused immeasurable changes at the Super home as well. The Green Valley residence owned by the Supers was ravaged by the flood. The river was literally a few steps outside their back door, a living classroom for a science teacher. Now the Supers live in two FEMA trailers while they wait to see what future plans hold for the Souris in their neighborhood.
"The erosion around our house has been very drastic," Super said. "There's lots of new sediment, but this is what rivers do. It is normal for a scouring event like this to occur and move all that sediment to the next place, which should be the ocean, but now we have all these impoundments. Lake Darling has been filling for years, the upper reaches anyway, and that has been starting to make it eutrophic." which refers to waters rich in minerals and organic nutrients.
As the flood waters receded this past July it left young northern pike, smallmouth bass, perch, crawfish and turtles scattered throughout the city. Many never found their way back to the river. Even if they had, they would have found survival difficult. The Souris was devoid of food sources.
"I can't say it's all negative," said Super, smiling. "A bright spot is all those fish that came through the dam. The fishing has been spectacular. There's actually a lot of fish and they are very, very hungry. That's what I figure. There's a lot of fish trying to get back upstream."
As life returns in the Souris, at a timetable of its own choosing, Super expects
the river to be a different environment than it was previous to the flood of 2011. Perhaps, Super said, enough sediment has been moved to return much of the riverbottom of the Souris to pebbles and gravel.
"That's was it was like originally," Super said. "This was the type of event it takes to move sediment that has been holding organic matter that is probably the reason for frequent fish kills."
Decaying organic matter removes dissolved oxygen from water. In the case of the Souris, it often made long portions of it a "dead" river. The desire to have a more viable river through the city has been mentioned at various public forums in Minot recently. Super says the idea of a "living" river has some merit.
"Look at Grand Forks. They have a living river. Yes, it's a different system than ours. They have a great riverfront area, fishing tournaments in the summer and places to go. I really think Minot could have something like that," Super said. "Our river isn't as big and doesn't flow as consistently as the Red River, but we could have a viable, recreating river and make our downtown and our riverfront a much more fun place to visit."
The future flood protection plan for the city of Minot is still in the developmental stage. It is likely that any plan adopted will once again influence life-cycles in the Souris. How, and to what extent, may not be known for several years.
"I know how it's been. My family is flooded out. I don't know what the best solution is, but with all the big changes that are being planned, it will be a much different river," Super said. "Something that has to be emphasized, all these forces came together. The snow from last fall, the rain event in the spring and the holding of water in the reservoirs all kind of came together to make an awfully big event here in Minot."