After its water tower froze in February, the city of Emery is looking at major repairs to its water tower system for the second time in less than a year.

Emery leaders asked the James River Water Development District Board of Directors for financial assistance with fixing the damage caused by the freezing. After some back-and-forth discussion, the board approved giving the city $20,000, which will go toward an estimated $85,890 in work. The decision was made during a regular meeting of the board, held at the Davison County North Offices in Mitchell.

Emery City Finance Officer Kristi Wollmann said the community spent more than $46,000 last year fixing the riser pipe in the city's tower, which is estimated to hold between 60,000 and 70,000 gallons of water. Since the February freeze, the city has directed the water from its supplier Hanson Rural Water straight to residents, without any bulk storage. That leaves the city susceptible to being without water if there's a peak in demand.

Wollmann was asked what kind of engineer was used on the project in 2018, and she responded that Emery didn't use an engineer for the project, but rather a contractor who specializes in fixing water towers. She said Emery couldn't afford a new recirculation system in 2018 when the riser pump was fixed, because it immediately followed a $3 million sewer and water infrastructure project last year.

"We were maxed out with that, and just didn't have the funding," she said, adding that the city didn't have the water tower insured at the time of the freezing.

There was some disagreement among board members about whether granting the money was something that JRWDD should be doing. Frank Amundson, of Huron, saw the issue as one of maintenance, and one that should be handled by the town.

"If we approve this, I think we might as well get rid of our mission statement, and we can expect every municipality in our basin to come ask us for money for maintenance projects like this," he said.

Chairman Dan Klimisch, of Yankton, said that JRWDD has helped other municipalities in similar situations.

"They're in a tough situation, and they're in a bind," he said. "I think it is within our mission, to help them get water to the community."

Robert Braun, of Aberdeen, said JRWDD's mission statement does include accounting for "protection of domestic water and wastewater systems for safe drinking water and fire protection (not including normal maintenance unless damaged by an act of God.)"

Robertson was the lone vote against the funding request, which passed 7-1. The city of Emery has committed $43,890 to the project, and initially asked for $42,000 on Thursday, until the amendment was made for $20,000.

South Central watershed work update

The JRWDD board also heard an update on the South Central Watershed Project, which is expecting another key year of work in 2019.

Rocky Knippling, the project's coordinator, said staff members will continue to sample water every three weeks. Those samples are collected in Mitchell and then sent via courier to Pierre for testing. There are five sampling sites on the Firesteel Creek, with one site relocated to just downstream from where the city of Mitchell made its $4.1 million purchase of 371 acres of property, including 330 acres of farmland in the low-lying areas near the creek.

Overall, there are 23 sites sampled throughout the James River watershed, which has a service area that includes Marshall, Brown, Spink, Beadle, Sanborn, Aurora, Davison, Hanson, Hutchinson and Yankton counties.

Knippling said he's been meeting with some farmers and producers about feedlot work, but admitted that work has been slow because of the high water levels throughout the region.

"Most farmers aren't in a real good mood when we're pulling into the yard right now," Knippling said. "But we're looking forward to getting going."

In November 2018, Knippling reported that the Firesteel Creek samplings showed a more stable watershed. Watershed employees test for total suspended solids, which can indicate high bacteria, nutrient and pesticide levels, while also looking for E. coli in the samples.

Knippling said he's also met with city of Mitchell officials about how best to use grant funding that has been made available with the Sanborn Boulevard and East Central Drainage System projects - which have been funded through the state's revolving loan fund - taking place this year.

The district also has $216,000 in non-point source funding from the state of South Dakota that it will dedicate to watershed work. That is part of a three-year first segment of work done over the next 10 to 15 years.

In addition to work near Mitchell, other areas of focus are working on the Lewis and Clark Lake watershed, the Lake Andes, Geddes, Academy and Platte Lake watersheds and working on impaired reaches in the Vermillion River watershed.

Shane Deranleau, who also works as a watershed coordinator for the project, said they will also be capturing drone footage this year that will be able to compare from about three years ago and give an idea of progress, as well.

Water sampling will begin later this month, said Knippling, who joked that the area near Mitchell where they typically park to take samples "is under four feet of water."

Policy for neighbor notification receives backing

The JRWDD board also authorized plans to create a policy that would require applicants seeking assistance for projects related to water retention and flow in the James River watershed to notify immediately adjacent landowners about their plans.

The proposal was brought forward by Carol Millan, of Mitchell. The applicant must provide a statement that contacts have been made, and listing those contacts, methods of contact and dates be kept on record. The policy says that the statement could be asked for by the JRWDD and its board.

"That way, we know the people that are around dams or something like that, that they made aware before the project is done, that it is being done," she said. "I don't think that we as a board or our staff should be the ones having to make contacts. It might be some protection for us in a long run."

Applicants aren't required to get a neighbor's approval or disapproval, but only to document the notification. But applicant would attest that they notified their neighbors when they apply for assistance from JRWDD.

"We're going to take the applicant's word that they did this ... and they're going to sign an affidavit saying they did," Klimisch said.

Board members agreed that they didn't want water to back up on someone who was not aware of the project. In the case of a county or township road being located adjacent, Millan said those governmental bodies should be notified, as well.

In the reasoning for the rule change, JRWDD Manager Dave Bartel cited a couple of recent incidents in which nearby landowners said they weren't aware of nearby dams. He mentioned a Sanborn County case that The Daily Republic reported about in April in which water from a Ducks Unlimited small dam had backed up onto a nearby landowner's field. In that case, the Ducks Unlimited agreed to deconstruct the ditch plug used to block the water, which was to help with animal habitat.

The policy would go into effect immediately, Bartel said, once the final details and wording is worked out.