N.D. Gov. Proclaims Drought Disaster; Concerns Abound for Increased Fire Dangers

March 15, 2005

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven has proclaimed a drought disaster for the Upper Missouri River Basin and western North Dakota to include both Lake Oahe and Lake Sakakawea.

Drought conditions are predicted to continue to cause numerous wildfire emergencies, community and rural water supply shortages and economic hardships across the state, particularly along the Missouri River system. Hoeven also discussed the importance of drought assistance with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns when he was recently in the state.

“Low water levels on Lakes Sakakawea and Oahe are affecting not only our recreation industry, but also the vital drinking water supply of our urban and rural communities,” Hoeven said. “Water shortages, combined with declining topsoil and subsoil moisture supplies, continue to create a direct economic hardship to our farmers and ranchers, as well as local businesses that depend on agriculture.”

Research conducted by the State Water Commission (SWC) indicates the Missouri River Basin is in a six-year drought. “With this season’s winter snow pack well below normal, lower water levels are expected for Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe,” said Todd Sando, State Water Commission assistant engineer.

“Several communities along the Missouri River Basin are beginning to show impacts resulting from low water levels,” said Doug Friez, director of the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management (NDDEM). “However, all communities drawing water supplies from the Missouri River show potential for being affected by predicted low water levels resulting from continued drought conditions. We continue to work with tribal authorities and federal agencies to help ensure that communities currently requesting assistance have a safe and adequate water supply.”

Wildfire activity reported over the March 5-7 weekend reportedly underscores dry conditions currently affecting western North Dakota. Normally, North Dakota has a spring fire season starting in April through spring green-up, and a fall fire season developing in late August until Halloween. With the current dry conditions of prairie fuels and seasonal high winds, the need for all land users to monitor conditions relating to fire danger is apparent.

“People start most wildfires, which often begin unnoticed, spread quickly and become out of control without warning,” said Colleen Reinke, N.D. Forest Service Fire Planning and Prevention specialist. “When wildfire threatens, follow the instructions of local fire officials. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.”

Individuals can cope by preparing in advance and devising a Family Disaster Plan, which includes a Disaster Supplies Kit. Contact one’s local fire department or forestry office for information on fire laws. To obtain online information on restrictions put into effect during very high and extreme fire danger categories, go to the NDDEM Web site at www.state.nd.us/dem/info/. To find out what one can do to prepare for wildfires go to www.firewise.org/usa/.

Since 2002, Gov. Hoeven has issued six drought- and three fire-related declarations. These declarations have led to increased fire danger awareness, implementation of emergency loan programs from the U.S. Small Business Administration, agricultural assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and facilitated technical, operational and financial assistance to address water supply shortages for the cities of Parshall and Fort Yates.

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