Rice Lake looks for a solution for water levels

DOUGLAS Resolving the problems associated with high water at Rice Lake can be accomplished more cheaply and with fewer downstream repercussions than by building a proposed drainage pipeline, Douglas-area residents were told Sunday.

Ron Kramer, spokesman for Friends of the Douglas Aquifer, addressed residents at a meeting hosted by the Douglas City Council in the community’s senior center. He is one of several landowners being sued by the Rice Lake Recreation Service District in an eminent domain proceeding to obtain easements to construct a pipeline to drain excess water from Rice Lake into Douglas Creek, about 10.5 miles away.

Kramer said the district’s board has ignored less expensive options in favor of a solution that harms its neighbors and taxes Rice Lake residents beyond their abilities to pay.

The Rice Lake board declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The proposed project is designed to alleviate flooding by pumping water out of Rice Lake.

“By pumping Rice Lake, you are also pumping the Douglas Aquifer,” Kramer said. “You are depleting a vital aquifer in the region. That’s the sole source of water for some homes, farms and ranches. You are taking away from these folks who have lived out there their whole lives and cared for this land their whole lives. You are telling them that these cabin owners at Rice Lake are a higher priority than you and your livestock, which is your livelihood.”

Kramer added that the project would interfere with the natural cycle of recharge of the Douglas Aquifer.

“We are feeling like they are trying to pump the recharge off the aquifer during high moisture events, and we are afraid it’s going to be a short-sighted event, where they are going to pump the reserve out, and during an extended dry period, there will be no reserve, and we will end up with people who live in the area who do not have access to that aquifer,” he said.

Landowners also are concerned that draining water into Douglas Creek could lead to downstream flooding of land that now is being pastured or hayed. Other potential downstream concerns include flooding of the Douglas sewage lagoon and home basements.

The $5.7 million project doesn’t include costs of pumping, maintenance or the legal fees that the board is incurring, Kramer said.

Already, the tax on a small cabin at Rice Lake is $4,000 with special assessments, he said. The pipeline project is estimated to add another $1,200 a year, although Kramer said he believes that figure to be low. The expectation is that landowners will be walking away from their properties because of taxes, he said.

“Now we’ve got a few people who have been flooded out by the water and we are getting more people who are getting flooded out by their tax bill. I don’t think in good conscience we can do something like that, especially when we have other options,” he said.

Kramer indicated Rice Lake can resolve its issues by spending an estimated $2.5 million on dikes, buyouts of already flooded properties and flood-proofing its sewer system. He also suggested a construction moratorium on property below the level of Rice Lake’s natural outlet of 2,046.4 feet.

Kramer said a pressurized artesian aquifer under a portion of Rice Lake ensures that pumping out the lake won’t be a solution.

“The only thing that is keeping the pressurized water from coming up is the water that is above it kind of like a lid on the artesian aquifer. And nobody knows for sure what really will happen when they pump that water level down. Will that stimulate that artesian aquifer? Will it create higher production than they can pump?,” he said. “The board is taking a gamble. … Once that artesian aquifer is stimulated, nobody really knows if or how to stop it from flowing, so it could actually end up being a bigger problem.”

The North Dakota State Water Commission has agreed to make $2.8 million available for the proposed pipeline project, but the district has yet to obtain the necessary drainage permits.

Before any water ever goes through a pipeline, the district will have to win its case with the landowners and then complete construction, pushing back any pumping to the spring of 2016 or later, Kramer said.

“I don’t understand how that’s an immediate solution. How does that help the people who are flooded out? How does that help the people who are in danger of being flooded?” he said.

Kramer also presented calculations indicating that once pumping starts, it would take 13.3 years to fully lower the lake at the pace of pumping being proposed.