Minnesota National Guard assists at northeast North Dakota dam; water crosses roads outside of Devils Lake

The Minnesota National Guard placed the pumps, which both weigh more than five tons and are leased from a private contractor, using a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Highway 20 by Webster, North Dakota, from the North Dakota Department of Transportation's Devils Lake District.
Submitted photo
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CAVALIER, N.D. — National Guard units from Minnesota and North Dakota placed two large pumps at the Bourbanis Dam on Friday, May 6, to minimize water flow at the damaged structure.

On Tuesday, May 3, the North Dakota National Guard was called to stabilize the dam, which was in danger of rupturing , with one-ton sandbags.

The Minnesota National Guard placed the pumps, which both weigh more than five tons and are leased from a private contractor, using a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The Minnesota National Guard action is in response to an Emergency Management Assistance Compact request from the state of North Dakota for a helicopter capable of placing the pumps, which each weigh more than five tons.

“Spring floods continue to put our fellow Americans at risk, and when disaster hits, Minnesotans have always stepped up. We have the resources needed to continue addressing flooding here in Minnesota, while also being in a strong position to help our neighbors,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a press release. “I am proud that the Minnesota National Guard has answered this call to serve.”

North Dakota is facing significant overland and riverine flooding within the Sheyenne River and Red River basins caused by the rapid melt of the record-breaking snowfall and the heavy spring rains. The resources of affected local, county, and state governments "are inadequate to meet the demands caused by the flooding," Walz’s office said in a news release. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has declared a statewide emergency.


EMAC is a mutual aid agreement between all 50 states. A requesting state asks for resources based on their needs and while any state can respond, there is no obligation to participate, according to the news release. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division coordinates the state’s EMAC requests.

Army Col. Gregory Fix, Minnesota National Guard’s State Army Aviation Officer, said the CH-47 Chinook “is a tremendous asset for the National Guard,” and “has the capability to lift heavy loads greater than 10,000 pounds, and moving the two pumps for flood support is just one example.”

The Guard members and aircraft were from the St. Cloud-based B Company, 1-171 Aviation Regiment.

“This aviation unit has many hours of experience moving equipment,” said Fix. “They recently returned from a deployment to Iraq and Kuwait. While deployed, the unit provided the aerial movement of troops and supplies throughout the area.”

This isn’t the first time the Minnesota National Guard has assisted with flood operations in North Dakota. Fix said the Minnesota National Guard has worked with their neighbors to the west multiple times during floods. Additionally, in 2019 aviators delivered hay to cattle in Nebraska due to extreme flooding in the area.

Bourbanis Dam Pump.jpg
Each of the two pumps placed to minimize water flow at the damaged Bourbanis Dam on Friday, May 6, weigh more than five tons.
Contributed / North Dakota National Guard

On Friday afternoon, LuAnn Kemp, secretary for the Pembina County Water Resource District said she could not provide any information about where water will be redirected by the pumps or how the redirection of water from the Bourbanis Dam will affect surrounding areas. Pembina County Emergency Manager Samantha Diemert also declined to answer questions about the dam and placement of pumps.

On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the North Dakota National Guard placed 213 total sandbags at the dam, according to Bill Prokopyk, spokesman for the North Dakota National Guard. The sandbags were filled locally by volunteers in Cavalier, and placed using two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Bismarck.

"One of the old things we used to say is the lake is not a bathtub, it doesn't just lay at one level," said Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "What I always point out, when people complain that (water levels) have never been this low, just go back farther and you'll find lower water than you have right now."

The Bourbanis Dam is one of 10 dams in the Tongue River Watershed. According to Pembina County Emergency Management updates, other dams in the watershed are operating as designed, and water levels in the watershed are being monitored. The Tongue River is a tributary of the Pembina River, which then flows into the Red River.


As of Friday afternoon, May 6, North Dakota Highway 5 remains closed from North Dakota Highway 1 to North Dakota Highway 32.

Flooding continues to impact travel on other highways in northeast North Dakota. North Dakota Highway 18 at the Neche Port of Entry into Canada is closed due to water over the road. U.S. Customs and Border Protection advises passenger vehicle traffic to utilize the Pembina, North Dakota, entry to the east of Neche or the Walhalla, North Dakota, entry to the west of Neche. Commercial traffic can utilize the Pembina Port of Entry.

Under the Pembina Interchange of I-29 North, there is water over the northbound lanes. Northbound traffic is directed onto interchange ramps to avoid water on the main interstate. At the Pembina border crossing, water is on the shoulder of northbound I-29.

North Dakota Highway 5 is closed from Joliette to the Red River, and on the Minnesota side, connecting Minnesota Highway 175 is closed 6 miles west of Hallock, Minnesota.

North Dakota Highway 20 south of Webster remains open, but there is water on the driving lanes and speeds are reduced to 25 mph.

Related Topics: FLOODING
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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