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James River board gets lake phosphorus update

The Board of Directors of the James River Water Development District received the CliffNotes version of the Lake Mitchell phosphorus issue when it met Thursday at City Hall.

Lake Mitchell as seen in the fall of 2017. (Republic file photo)
Lake Mitchell as seen in the fall of 2017. (Republic file photo)

The Board of Directors of the James River Water Development District received the CliffNotes version of the Lake Mitchell phosphorus issue when it met Thursday at City Hall.

Everyone concerned about lake water quality now awaits a cost estimate for dredging and capping the lake's phosphorus-rich sediment, Joe Kippes of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee told directors.

Mitchell's lake consultant, Fyra Engineering, is expected to deliver its estimate on June 18.

Kippes reviewed the depths of the problem uncovered by Fyra. Phosphorus coming in from the lake's large watershed has accumulated for 90 years. Abundant phosphorus now fuels blue-green algae blooms that pose a health hazard. There's no easy fix. Water quality improvement will require dealing with both the sediment already in the lake and removing phosphorus from water entering the lake. The solutions will be costly, and funding has not been identified.

He reviewed the history of an earlier $7.2 million estimate for dealing with just the lake sediment and how core samples taken in February found deeper deposits, likely raising costs.

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James River district Director Joe Koupal questioned Kippes about the Lake Committee's confidence in Fyra.

"The committee is more comfortable than a lot of people," Kippes replied.

Fyra wasn't licensed to do engineering work in South Dakota, he said. It was in the process of obtaining the permit, but the state investigated and fined Fyra.

"To me it was more news than issue," Kippes said, "but it did damage. It didn't do a lot to establish confidence."

Fyra has a strong solution for the lake, Kippes said.

"There's no magic pill here. Phosphorus has been accumulating a long time, and it's going to take a long time to correct this."

In other matters, James River directors dealt with several funding requests for dams, bridges, sanitation and water system projects. While each is an issue in itself, the growing number of requests is also an issue, said James River district Chairman Dan Klimisch after the meeting.

He noted the board would have exhausted available funds for the year if had approved all of Thursday's requests. On July 19, the board plans to meet in Huron to prioritize the kinds of projects they will assist in the future.

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A few years ago, the board was not getting a lot of funding requests, he said.

"Now, we're getting a lot. We have to start scrutinizing them a little more," he said. "That's good," he noted. The district has not raised taxes for seven years, he says, and it has an obligation to taxpayers.

The board distributes roughly $600,000 for James River projects annually.

"We want to fund only the best projects," Klimisch said.

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