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James River water flow, sedimentation study proposals tabled


Aberdeen American News 

ABERDEEN -- At least one board member for the James River Water Development District questions the need for another study on the James River if it simply concludes the water flow has increased and nothing can be done about it.

Mark Anderson of the U.S. Geological Survey proposed two studies Thursday at the JRWDD meeting in Aberdeen. One proposal asked for $41,000 to study the cause of the accumulation of sediment at the mouth of the James River in Yankton County. The second proposal asked for a $45,000 commitment for a two-year study on the cause for the increased flow of water on the James River.

"In terms of volume of flow, the James River is unprecedented," Anderson said, explaining that the two-year study would take a look at whether precipitation is the main factor causing the increase in flow or if other factors come into play.

Anderson said higher flows could be caused by precipitation, but land-use changes, such as tiling or entering or withdrawing a property in the Conservation Reserve Program, also could be factors.

The study asks for contributions from the JRWDD and the East Dakota Water Development District. Funding can be spread over two fiscal years. Funds from those two entities would match USGS funding of $45,000 to complete the study. The EDWDD will be approached about funding next week.

EDWDD Manager Jay Gilbertson said the purpose of the study is to confirm or disprove anecdotal reasons for the higher water flow.

Gilbertson said flooding has been connected to tiling, but rather than continue to speculate whether it's the cause, this study will pinpoint what's causing the higher flows. Gilbertson said one of the expected results of the study is a finding that the increased water flow is largely because of climate changes, but the technical foundation is needed for future direction.

Board members tabled both funding requests to give members more time to look at the proposals.

Anderson said the James River is unique. Not only have flows increased, but there are increases in the flow every month. With a typical river, he said, there's usually a specific time of the year where flow increases.

Asked if the USGS has ever completed an aquifer study to determine the amount of water feeding a particular system, Anderson said no.

"It's hard to establish how much water is in the ground, but you can measure the storage change," he said.

The USGS uses gravity meters to measure changes in water levels.

JRWDD board member Randy Grismer was hesitant to support the study because previous studies have indicated that the changes in water flow can't be remedied.

"The James River has the slowest flow and the highest volume," Grismer said. "It seems like a recipe for disaster. Knowing the factors is valuable, but is it enough to make a difference?"

Sediment study

Anderson said the purpose of the sediment study on the south end James River is to try to gain a deeper understanding of the water flow and why sediment continues to collect. Another part of the study will be to evaluate the sediment to determine where it came from. The collection of sediment prevents the James River from flowing into the Missouri River.

Anderson said the sediment continues to collect and move upriver, but stops at a bridge in Yankton County. JRWDD board members aim to approach Yankton County to see if there's interest from the board in sharing the cost of the study with JRWDD.

The sediment study includes $20,000 in USGS funds.

Anderson said there's no time requirement for either study, but now is the optimal time to commit funds for a study because the new fiscal year is approaching, and available USGS funds for these projects are committed quickly.

Board members tabled both funding requests to give members more time to look at the proposals.