River Headaches

This dead tree trunk wound up lodged beneath the James River bridge near Jamesville Colony in northern Yankton County following major flooding this spring. After finally returning to its banks a few weeks ago, the river is again at flood stage from Scotland to the south.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at issues related to the James River in eastern South Dakota.


More water, more demands.

The James River Water Development District (JRWDD) expects a spike in flood-related requests from local governments, its board said Thursday in Yankton.

The full impact of the flooding won’t be known until the water levels drop, which could take weeks, according to JRWDD manager Dave Bartel.

"We’ll be seeing the damage when the flood recedes," he said. "When the water goes down, the small towns are going to take a hit and we’ll have a lot of visitors (seeking money from us)."

The requests for funding assistance have already begun, Bartel said. He predicted a great deal of infrastructure damage from the extensive flooding and its length of time.

"They’ll see more damage on a lot of their water systems. I think we’re going to see a lot of the small communities looking for help," he said. "We’re already seeing it. I probably have a township or two a week that is calling for help with culverts and gravel, things we don’t have the money for. There just isn’t enough money to help them. They’re looking for help right now, and it’s going to filter to the small towns and the larger towns, too."

In anticipation of greater demands next year, the JRWDD board Thursday proposed a higher budget for 2020. The board will finalize the budget at the Sept. 12 meeting in Aberdeen.

The board approved a preliminary budget of $1,017,288, which includes the allowed 3 percent increase under the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The inflation factor would represent an additional $29,628.

The JRWDD has been diligent about holding the line on expenses, according to JRWDD board chairman Dan Klimisch of Yankton. The district isn’t raising its tax request, he added.

The additional funding would provide a cushion for planned projects, Klimisch said. The board could remove the inflation factor when it finalizes the budget, but the figure will remain basically the same, he noted.

"You’re looking at a $1 million budget divided among 10 counties," he said.

Already, the JRWDD is seeing changes in project requests because of the flooding, Bartel said.

"The requests we’re getting are different than in the past. Typically, our requests are for earth dams, but those are slow coming in," he said. "Farmers and producers aren’t committing to anything until they know what their bottom line will be (for the current year)."

The JRWDD has changed its spending priorities in recent years, which has benefited local projects, Bartel said.

"We don’t get involved in a lot of the large studies anymore," he said. "We’re more active with trying to spend our dollars locally with the producers and businesses. We’re trying to help the local people and not send the money out of state."

The JRWDD board has also taken a conservative financial approach, which has held down the budget and taxes, Bartel said.

"We’re being a lot more cautious in how much we are spending and where we are spending it," he said.

For now, the JRWDD board and officials are monitoring the continued flood conditions throughout the valley. The flooding could worsen with recent heavy rainfall in the Huron and Mitchell areas.

The river, one of the flattest on Earth, meanders the entire north-south length of South Dakota — from approximately Aberdeen to Yankton — before entering the Missouri River.

"I don’t think it’s considered major flooding, but (the river) is still coming up," Bartel said. "I haven’t checked the gauge today, but (Wednesday) everything was coming up, from the North Dakota line all the way down to Yankton."

Regardless of where rain falls in the James River Valley, one thing remains certain — it will drain downstream to Yankton.

"It’ll find its way here, eventually," Bartel said.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates a website which allows viewers to monitor the James River and other waterways, he said.

"It’ll tell you what stage the water is coming up or going down," he said "I recommend that people get on the internet and get to the USGS website. It’s a real education to see the amount of water (in the river) and, when it’s high in Huron, how long it takes to hit Scotland. I find it really interesting."

The JRWDD has sought to benefit its service area as much as possible, Bartel said.

"You look at the small towns around here, and … they don’t have the big money to replace a sewer system or water system," he said. "It’s rewarding when you can go in there and help them as much as we can."

The National Weather Service (NWS) flood warning continues for the James River at or near Huron, Forestburg, Mitchell, Scotland and Yankton.

• At Scotland, at 8 a.m. Thursday the stage was 13.74 feet compared to the flood stage of 13 feet. The forecast calls for minor flooding occurring, and moderate flooding is forecast for the river to increase near 15.7 feet by July 17 and then begin falling. At stages nearly 15.5 feet, 431st Avenue is flooded where it crosses the river in northwestern Yankton County.

• At Yankton, the stage at 8 a.m. Thursday was 9.67 feet compared to flood stage of 12 feet. The forecast calls for the river to rise above flood stage by July 14 and continue to rise near 14.5 feet by July 18. Additional rises are possible thereafter. At stages near 16 feet, the southwest Jim River Road near 301st Street floods.

The forecast says the region could see additional precipitation today (Friday). A stationary boundary and building heat and humidity will create an increasing chance for thunderstorms around the area. If storms develop, heavy rain, large hail and damaging winds are possible.

Friday’s forecast calls for a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m. with a high of 92. The chance of precipitation is 20 percent, rising to 50 percent in the evening.

The forecast for the next week calls for highs in the 90s. The chance of precipitation stands at 20-30 percent Saturday, with no forecast of rain through Wednesday.


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