Flooding at Rice Lake

John M. Pietsch, Minot

Sometimes the best way to understand a situation is review the events that led up to it. I would like to address comments made earlier in reference to the farmer who was flooded northwest of Rice Lake. In the spring of 2011 the Rice Lake Recreational District began pumping water from Rice Lake to a detention area just up the hill to the northeast of the lake on land owned by Ward County. This was done in an effort to lower the water elevation in Rice Lake as cabins and homes were being flooded. I received a call from the farmer (Delos Haugen) who farms the land just west of Ward County land where the lake water is being pumped. Haugen stated when he seeded the field he was able to seed the entire field and when he came back to spray, all the low areas were flooded. The Rice Lake District continued to pump through the summer into fall.

By harvest a field review revealed water filled three sloughs and was running back into Rice Lake. I could see Haugen was not real happy as it is almost impossible to do fall work when his field was divided by impassable waterways and he is convinced it is a result of the Rice Lake pumping to the detention area next to his farmland. To add insult to injury, Haugen receives a drainage complaint filed with the Ward County Water Board dated Oct. 4, 2011, against his three children, filed by the Rice Lake Recreational District claiming a pond had been trenched to drain water into Rice Lake on this farmland.

This would be comical except the NRCS doesn’t take too kindly to illegal draining and could result in the ASC depriving Haugen of his USDA payments. Did I mention I served on the Ward County Water Board at this time, so when Haugen stopped to pick me up, to see what I thought of this so called illegal drain, I didn’t dare say no. I think he may drive a little faster when something is bothering him as when we got to the field and I got out of the pick-up I had trouble standing up. Haugen wanted to know what I thought and I honestly didn’t see a problem, therefore after further investigation, the drainage complaint was dropped by the Water Board.

When pumping started early in 2012 the following year, Haugen did file a complaint against the Rice Lake District dated March 30, 2012, to let the district know in writing that his land was being flooded and due to salts leeching up in low areas his land could be damaged for years.

At a regular Water Board meeting dated April 9, 2012, a motion carried to forward Haugen’s complaint to the Rice Lake Recreational District. On April 23, 2012 another Water Board member, Gordon Krueger and I met, at Haugen’s request, on the farmland where the Rice Lake District filed the complaint of trenching earlier, Haugen pointed to a dam built by unknown individuals of rocks and plastic sheeting across the water way restricting the flow of water to Rice Lake. Haugen had not given permission to anyone to construct a dam in his field. Haugen later received an engineering report done from the district by their engineering firm dated April 27, 2012, stating there is no historic data regarding water or sodium/mineral levels on adjacent lands to the lake and extraordinary high aquifer levels is causing the land to flood. By this report we are to assume the pumping is causing no flooding in his field. Hard to believe because when the pumps start the water goes up in his field.

In May 2012 the pump was shut down as a result of no State Water Commission permit and one of the requirements to obtain a permit was to resolve Haugen’s March complaint. On June 22, 2012, at a Water Board meeting with representation from the Rice Lake District a motion was passed by the Ward County Water Board requesting the Rice Lake Recreational District to make a good faith effort to compensate any landowners for damage caused as a result of pumping. Maybe a month later the chairman and attorney from the district did meet with Haugen and I at Rice Lake to work on a settlement. Hard to do, as how do you correctly determine land damage in such a short time period and yearly crop loss weigh against the intention of helping others.

It looked to me Haugen was willing to forget and move on but when the comment was made at the County Commission Meeting by a member of the Rice Lake Recreational Board, basically stating the farmer had been paid very well. Haugen then pointed out he hadn’t been paid a dime and that statement is the truth. There are times a little respect is worth more than money, sad but in the end it doesn’t sound like Haugen received either one.