Rice Lake rise continues

DOUGLAS Raises to two sections of roadway that form an access perimeter to cabins surrounding Rice Lake have been completed. The raises were necessitated by a lake level that continues to increase. Portions of the roadway had become inundated.

While at one time it seemed an organized defense could stop the rising lake from damaging homes and property along its shoreline, the relentless rise has proven to be more than a match for many beleaguered and weary property owners. The raising of the roadways combats only a portion of the problems associated with rising water.

“We’re good for now,” said Steve Zahn, president of the Rice Lake Recreation Service District, when asked about the road improvements on the south and northwest side of the lake. “I know we are dangerously close to an all-time record again.”

The raised roadways allow cabin owners access to their properties without driving through water. Some of the cabins, or lake homes, are situated well above the water. Many other cabin owners are not so fortunate. A number of cabins have been either moved or vacated due to flooding. Still others have invested in extensive diking that is slowly giving way to saturation.

“We’ve got 167 cabins, 35 of them full-time owners,” said Zahn. “We’re very concerned about the spring. All we can do is fight the battles as they come up. It is a real challenge.”

Shane Soltis of Minot is a long-time cabin owner on the south side of Rice Lake. He watched the lake rise and the water begin to encroach across his property. Last year it was evident that action was necessary to prevent his lake home from flooding.

“I spent all summer spending money on dirt and dike building. Who wants to do that?” said Soltis. “It’s just heartbreaking. My property was nice. I had a beautiful lot. Now there is nothing left. All my land got flooded.”

Flooded and vacated property can be found at numerous locations along the lake. So too is evidence of a lengthy flood fight diking, homes moved, even foundations raised, all in an effort to escape the rising water that is showing no sign of retreat.

Rice Lake is a bowl that is actually an open view of the Douglas aquifer in which it is located. The aquifer is saturated due to several years of wetter than normal conditions. The level of the Douglas aquifer is closely related to the level of Rice Lake. Those who monitor the region closely agree that the aquifer must go down before the water level of Rice Lake will begin to recede.

“The water is still coming up, and the lift stations are (beginning to fail),” said one Rice Lake resident who asked not to be named.

Rice Lake has several sewer lift stations in use around the lake. The lift stations move sewage to large holding tanks. The most troublesome lift station to date is one located in a low area on the southern edge of the lake. Its holding tank has been susceptible to filling due to overflow from the lake, but the lift station remained operational this past week.

“It’s nothing that’s not being taken care of,” said Zahn. “That’s one lift station that needs more work, for the most part. There are challenges but that is nothing new. The unfortunate thing in fighting this battle is the tens of thousands of dollars to save property, and costs keep escalating.”

Soltis was forced to vacate his lake home and then watched helplessly as a large garage he owns on the south side of the southern perimeter road also became flooded. Other property there flooded as recently as three weeks ago when diking was no long effective enough to keep rising water at bay.

“I was mowing my property a few months ago,” said Soltis. “It’s just a shame. I do have faith in the board. I think they’ve done a good job. I think our property will come back.”

It seems a certainty that Rice Lake will undergo a significant rise again in the spring when snowmelt occurs, placing a further burden on those who own lake property. Meanwhile, the Rice Lake Board continues its pursuit of what members believe will be a permanent solution a pipeline leading from the lake to Douglas Creek several miles to the south. Douglas Creek flows into Lake Sakakawea.

“We’re optimistic about getting that permanent solution in the ground,” said Zahn.

The proposed pipeline received approval from the State Water Commission. It is currently awaiting litigation, primarily concerning easements from landowners whose property will be affected. It is not known when, or if, final approval will occur.

Early estimates for the project cost are approximately $6 million, about half of which would be assessed to Rice Lake property owners at the rate of about $100 per month for 20 years. The actual assessment per property owner would be determined by an assessment committee as the project nears completion.