Wet cycle leaves lingering problems in Ward County

Despite the respite in 2012, moisture conditions around Ward County indicate the region remains in a wet cycle.

From the rising of Rice Lake to the pressure from Puppy Dog Coulee, keeping roads and homes above water has been a continual challenge. Satellite imagery of southern Ward County shows a much larger array of sloughs and wetlands than even five years ago.

“That really paints the picture of what we are up against,” county highway engineer Dana Larsen said.

Richard Pederson, who lives about 16 miles southwest of Minot, said that previous water levels have been “nothing anywhere near” today’s levels.

“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “I have lived here since 1928 and my dad would say the same thing my grandfather would have said the same thing.”

A pasture that used to have a two- to three-foot deep slough now has 30 feet of water in it. What used to be scattered potholes now are connected into lake-sized sloughs.

Pederson, who rents out his land, said he has a 100-acre parcel that has not been farmed for three years. Other smaller parcels also can no longer be farmed or pastured. There’s water over the access road to his farm, but he has been able to drive through it this year.

The county raised the road to his farm five feet in 2010 only to have it go more than four feet under water in 2011.

“It’s way beyond anything that’s ever been before,” Pederson said. “We’re establishing new high-water marks.”

John Warner of Ryder lives on the edge of Makoti Lake more so now than ever before. The lake that used to be about 500 feet away now is held back by a driveway that was raised to serve as a dike.

“It’s very unusual. My family has been here since 1917. We have watched it rise and fall and at times farmed the lake bottom,” he said. “But it’s never been this high in our time here.”

Warner said the lake has doubled, gobbling up 300 acres of his and neighbors’ farmland as it has grown to nearly 600 acres total.

One of two houses on the farmstead was overtaken by water in 2011. The Warners still run pumps at times to keep water on its own side of the dike road.

According to engineers, the water level peaked in 2011, Warner said. The lake has a natural outlet that will keep the lake from continuing to rise. The overflow eventually ends up in Lake Sakakawea.

Warner said the lake went down about 30 inches during the relatively dry 2012. It has risen this year but not to the 2011 peak.

Access for Makoti-area residents also has suffered due to the high water. In 2011, Ward County Road 9, south of Makoti, went under water, where it has been since. The county plans to raise the road, but Warner said there are no plans to raise an area township road that also remains under water.

Warner said the real victim may be the town of Makoti. Cut off from its trade area by flooded roads, the town is losing its retail base as residents take their business elsewhere. His concern is that businesses may not rebound once roads are fixed if people establish new trade patterns elsewhere.

Warner believes the water eventually will go back down, although he has concerns about the condition of the soil when it happens. Makoti Lake is salty, so land productivity could suffer from salt residue that remains once the lake recedes, he said.

Pederson also is optimistic that the wet cycle will change. But he noted it will take a number of dry years to bring the water levels back down. Even then, the damage to pastures will require careful management to restore grasses, he said.