A dam dilemma: Homeowners look for answers to flooding

BURLINGTON – During the flood of 2011 there was concern that Dam No. 1 would give way and add to the flooding woes of residents downstream. The low earthen dam is located on the Des Lacs River immediately upstream of the Burlington Project.

When questioned about the safety of the dam in 2011 a spokesman for the State Water Commission recommended that the dam be removed as soon as conditions would permit following the 2011 flood. The dam remains in place today, backing up water that flows freely over an eroding horseshoe-shaped spillway and into the Des Lacs River.

“I would like to have them fix the dam so they could use it for flood control,” said Bernie Geiger, Burlington Project resident whose home is located near the spillway of Dam No. 1. “They could open the gates in the spring and fix the spillway so it is not washing away.”

The earthen dam was originally constructed to provide irrigation and hold a water supply for livestock, two purposes that are no longer needed. A small control structure on the dam has three valves that open to allow some water to pass through. However, the valves are usually closed and no agency maintains or operates them. That leads to rising water that rushes unchecked over a spillway, as was the case during recent heavy rainfall of the Des Lacs drainage that sent the meandering river to its highest level of 2013.

Geiger believes the dam could be effective for flood control and be of benefit to residents in the Burlington Project.

“I think quite a bit,” said Geiger. “There’s no protection for the people in the South Project area at all. There’s absolutely no control for this river from Kenmare down. I’m saying 90 percent of it you could control.”

Geiger appeared before the Ward County Water Resource Board Monday morning to voice her concerns over the dam. According to Geiger, the board’s response was that they would write a letter to the State Water Commission to see if they would send an engineer to inspect Dam No. 1.

“Everybody’s house gets flooded every year. Everybody is tired of it,” said Geiger. “They say the dam was built for irrigation, not flood control, so nobody will take control over it. There is no irrigation anymore.”

The dam backs up water into the Minot Retriever Club grounds. If the dam was removed as recommended by the State Water Commission during a 2011 public meeting in Burlington, the level of water in that stretch of the Des Lacs would drop several feet. If left in place and used as a minimal flood control structure, it would require an agency to oversee its operation. Geiger said she was told during Monday’s meeting that the dam is owned by Ward County.