Burgum asks for help to maintain access to Lake Sakakawea during low water levels

Mike Kennedy
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

BISMARK - Seeking to minimize economic losses from this year’s historic drought, Gov. Doug Burgum has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help maintain access at boat ramps on Lake Sakakawea as the lake’s elevation is predicted to remain lower next spring due to this year’s historic drought.

Created in 1954 with the completion of the construction of the Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea is the nation’s second largest man-made lake, the third by volume, and one of North America’s premier fishing destinations. The lake hosts more than 35 recreation sites and offers more miles of shoreline than the California Pacific Coast. It provides flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and supports municipal water systems for tens of thousands of North Dakotans. Recreation on Lake Sakakawea supports approximately 1,000 jobs and generates more than $140 million in visitor spending.

In his letter Friday to Col. Mark Himes, Commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Omaha District, Burgum noted that visitors to counties bordering Lake Sakakawea spent more than $290 million in 2020, supporting more than 3,000 jobs, according to the North Dakota Department of Commerce. Many of those jobs are provided by private concessionaries who operate in partnership with the Corps on public lands.

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12. Lake Sakakawea 1     • Location(s):  North Dakota     • Area:  520 sq. miles

“The long-range forecast for Lake Sakakawea’s elevation next spring is approximately 1,827 feet. At that level, the main boat ramps at 20 of North Dakota’s 36 recreation sites on the lake would be unusable,” Burgum stated in the letter. “Combined with known siltation issues at seven main ramp locations, access to the lake is expected to be significantly constrained.”

In past severe droughts, the Corps allocated funding and dedicated staff who facilitated low-lake access in a timely manner, including working with stakeholders to build primitive roads to alternative low-water boat ramps, Burgum noted.

“For the Corps to continue its mission of energizing the economy and reducing risks from disasters, proactive measures are again needed,” Burgum stated. “Specifically, assistance from the Corps is requested to lead coordination efforts, permit improvements and provide funding for access from public lands prior to next spring.”

Burgum offered assistance from state agencies as he urged a coordinated approach so contractors can begin addressing access issues immediately after ice-out.