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James River Water Development District Manager Dave Bartel gestures to where the James River continues to follow an earlier channel used by the Missouri River. (Ross Dolan/The Daily Republic)

James River board hears river flow complaints

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James River board hears river flow complaints
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

YANKTON -- Slower water releases from North Dakota and a better way to handle field drainage were among issues tackled by the James River Water Development District Thursday during a regional meeting at Yankton's Best Western Kelly Inn.


Yankton farmer Harold Klimisch told U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives Kellie Bergman and Tim Temeyer they need to slow down flows to the James River from the Pipestem and Jamestown reservoirs in North Dakota.

"We're getting drowned out and and we didn't get rain," said the angry Klimisch, who said releases from the north are once again threatening crops on land he owns near the James River north of Yankton.

"The plan isn't working," Klimisch said. "There needs to be a change somewhere."

Bergman, chief of water control for the Omaha District, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Tim Temeyer, a hydrologist for the Corps, said plans are to continue releasing 900 cubic feet per minute of water to the James until July 22 and then cut back flows to 600 cubic feet per minute. All flood storage would be evacuated at Jamestown reservoir by late July and at Pipestem by early September.

"We start releasing flows as soon as we have room downstream," Bergman said.

JRWDD Manager Dave Bartel and others, however, wondered why flows couldn't be slowed until later in season.

"Pipestem doesn't have any way to control for irrigation," Temeyer said, noting that flood control, and not irrigation, is a Corps priority.

"It's a very complex issue," Temeyer said, acknowledging that what's good for North Dakota may not be good for South Dakota.

Any change in releases would require an allocation of storage study that would be a lengthy process.

JRWDD Director Randy Grismer said the Corps needs to do a better job of explaining its storage policies so South Dakotans can have some confidence in how decisions are made.

Flow up on the James

U.S. Geological Survey Chief of Hydrologic Studies Dan Driscoll told his audience that the 150 stream gauges around the state show water flows have increased in South Dakota since 1993.

"There's been a significant upward trend in flows detected by steam gauges," he said. "A general increase in annual precipitation has been the most obvious reason for the uptick for at least half the stream gauges," Driscoll said, but other factors could also play a part.

"It would take a more rigorous analysis to explain the trends," he said.

Land-use factors, such as the increase in drain tile projects throughout the state, could also be among factors contributing to higher water flows, said Driscoll, "But that's very much an unknown."

Drainage projects

East Dakota Water Development District Manager Jay Gilbertson said a July 1 meeting of the state Regional Watershed Advisory Task Force in Pierre determined the state must consider five areas for the future for ongoing drainage issues.

There must be: mandatory mediation of disputes to avoid tying up courts; standardized disclosure of new projects; an inventory of water management assets; research funding for best practices; and the creation of water management districts. House Bill 1001 addresses many of the issues, Gilbertson said. The legislation would make water development districts into water management districts.

"Under this concept management issues would be handled at the watershed scale and not the county level," Gilbertson explained. That approach would do a better job of taking into account the downstream impacts of drainage projects, he said.

New deferred grazing program

Lower James River Watershed Coordinator Dave Kringen said there will be a 10 a.m. July 18 meeting at his office, 721 E. Havens Plaza, Mitchell, about a new watershed program.

Under the program, landowners will be paid up to $30 per acre, per year in one-time up-front payments for not allowing grazing in defined riparian, or streamside, areas during certain times of the year.

The program's aim is to prevent erosion that could potentially damage water quality. More information is available at 990-5353.

In other business the board:

Approved up to $6,000 to repair a dam on property owned by JoAnn Auch southeast of Menno at 43608 287th St. Bartel determined the dam, while eight miles above the James River, was still a good JRWDD project because the repair will stop large amounts of sediment from washing into the river. Adjacent landowners also favored the repair, he said. The repairs will include patching the dam and installing an overflow tube, to keep high water from washing out the dam in the future. Approved up to $100,000 to install rip-rap on three bridges in Spink County. The repairs will keep the bridges from washing out. Approved $1,700 for wood pile cleanup, also in Spink County. Approved a preliminary budget of $958,000 for 2014.