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Army Corps of Engineers plans to lower Missouri River reservoirs in the Dakotas before spring

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — The Army Corps of Engineers plans to lower the levels of Missouri River reservoirs in the Dakotas before the start of the 2015 spring runoff season.

The agency's plan is to lower Lake Oahe by more than 3 feet and Lake Sakakawea by about 6 feet by the start of the runoff season March 1, according to Jody Farhat, chief of the corps' Missouri River Basin Water Management Division.

She spoke Tuesday at meetings in Bismarck and Pierre, the states' capitals, on the agency's draft operating plan for the river for the upcoming year, according to The Bismarck Tribune and the Capital Journal.

"We are not going to put these communities at risk of flooding," Farhat said.

Because of high water levels in the two reservoirs after a wet year, officials in the Dakotas are worried that next spring could bring a repeat of 2011, when Missouri River flooding caused by heavy spring snow runoff and rain led to damage in the two states.

"My biggest concern is that we don't repeat that," Pierre resident Brent Dykstra said. "I don't think we've learned our lesson."

Susan Weinand, of Bismarck, said she lost neighbors to health problems and suicide after 2011.

"I can't live through another flood," she said.

Farhat said there's no indication that next spring will have similar conditions. The corps also expects all flood storage space in the river system to be available, she said.

The amount and quality of information available to the corps also has increased since 2011, further reducing the risk of flooding, Farhat said.

"The actual operation (of the river) is based on the facts on the ground," she said.

The final version of the corps' 2015 annual operating plan for the river will be published in December. The agency is accepting public comments until Nov. 21 via email at Missouri.Water.Management@nwd02.usace.army.mil.

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