Corps of Engineers has a plan to stabilize the Snake Creek Embankment

Jun 29, 2017

Snake Creek Embankment.
Credit Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing an update to the water control plan for Lake Audubon.

The Corps’ concern is the Snake Creek Embankment – on US Highway 83 between Lake Audubon and Lake Sakakawea.

Potential problems with the embankment emerged after the drought in the early 2000s.

"During that time, we saw a record level of difference between the water surfaces of Lake Sakakawea and Lake Audubon," said Corps project manager Matt Nelson. He said the water pressure from Lake Audubon on the embankment was much more than the dam was designed for.

"If left unchecked, that high pressure could ultimately result in dam failure," Nelson said.

The embankment also carries rail traffic and high voltage power lines.

Nelson said the proposal is to "restrict the difference" between the levels of the two lakes – to make sure the embankment remains stable.

"In an event when Lake Sakakawea gets down really, really low, we're saying that at no time can Lake Sakakawea be more than 43 feet lower than Lake Audubon," Nelson said. "Should it approach that, we would then release water from Lake Audubon into Lake Sakakawea to maintain that difference."

Nelson said that would happen only in times of serious drought -- more severe than that of the early 2000s.

"Even during the worst part of that drought, it was 41 feet lower that Audubon," Nelson said. "The new restriction still wouldn't have been used at that time."

Nelson said the Corps realizes there could be negative impacts if water has to be released from Lake Audubon back into Lake Sakakawea. But he said it will be necessary to make sure the embankment remains stable.