Arrowwood refuge bracing, diking for record runoffOn Wednesday, Arrowwood Lake was still ice-covered and looking its wintry best; but looks are deceiving. Instead of the usual runoff flowing over the ice melting and breaking it up, the lake is still a solid sheet of ice.
By: Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun
ARROWWOOD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.D. — On Wednesday, Arrowwood Lake was still ice-covered and looking its wintry best; but looks are deceiving.
Instead of the usual runoff flowing over the ice melting and breaking it up, the lake is still a solid sheet of ice.
However, that sheet of ice has risen nearly 5 feet since the middle of March, according to Dave Azure, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy project leader at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. This spring, the runoff is flowing underneath the ice, he said. The ice sheet has risen by more than a foot just since April 1.
“Ordinarily, the runoff water runs over the lake and melts the ice,” Azure said. “This is unusual, bizarre even.”
The only real indication the lake has risen is the watery ice eating away at the shoreline and a lake level measurement of 1,440.3 feet above mean sea level. But, the Fish and Wildlife staff at Arrowwood are bracing for much worse and building dikes in expectation of water levels reaching between 1,451 and 1,458 feet. The last record level was 1,445.7 feet set in 1997.
“There is no precedent for this,” Azure said.
The refuge office and visitor center, equipment buildings, bunkhouse, shop and other outbuildings nestle into the hillside on the north side of Arrowwood Lake. The clay dike refuge personnel are building to protect the buildings is at 1,453 feet. The boathouse at the shoreline was allowed to go underwater in 1997. This time around the boathouse is inside the dike. In fact, it’s nearly buried in the dike. Only the roof still shows. The massive earthen dike encloses the area, standing nearly 15 feet high in some spots.
When it’s finished the dike will hook into the hillside, completely surrounding the complex leaving as a way out a service road up and through the hills. The current entrance road leading to the office/visitor center was raised after it was submerged in the 1997 flood. Azure said at the new height he figures it will be under at least 2 feet of water at the flood’s peak.
“In the next two to three weeks, the lake will come up 11 to 18 feet based on the projections,” he said.
Last summer, Azure said, they did a drawdown of the lake trying to get it to its lowest possible level. The lake was lowered to 1,432 feet above sea level. Although it didn’t hurt, he said, it isn’t going to be much help. Already the lake is more than 8 feet higher than that and it’s only the beginning of the spring melt.
“They’re talking about so much water coming down this spring that drawing down the lake last year was a drop in the bucket,” he said.
The refuge, one of 63 in the state, is focused primarily on waterfowl. As well as Arrowwood Lake, the refuge includes Jim Lake, Depuy Marsh and Mud Lake — all part of the James River north of Jamestown Dam. A complex set of water control structures was finished about a year ago to provide differing water levels as habitat for waterfowl. As part of the structures a bypass channel carries excess river water down to the Jamestown Reservoir. The dike separating the bypass channel from Jim Lake, Depuy Marsh and Mud Lake is at 1,442 feet.
“The dike will probably go 8 feet underwater,” Azure said. “And all the water control features will be entirely submerged.”
North of Arrowwood, in the James River watershed, there’s still a considerable amount of snow, he said. Plus, the wetlands that act as water storage areas are already filled. In some places, the wetlands are already overflowing.
“The watershed is full,” he said.
But the expectation of high amounts of runoff from the watershed is only one problem, Azure said. He doesn’t know what will happen when water stop-ped by Jamestown Dam backs up into the refuge. The reason for building the $10 million water control structures was because the refuge has suffered from water backup since the dam was built in 1958. It put too much water in the waterfowl habitat areas along the refuge. Azure wonders what kind of backup will occur if the water gets high enough to hit the “glory hole.” That, combined with runoff coming in, could make the situation at Arrowwood worse.
For now, however, it’s dike building and sandbagging. It’s also working on contingency plans if Ar-rowwood Lake goes over the dike at 1,453 feet.
As for the wildlife at the refuge, Azure said, they’ll “be fine. This is a waterfowl refuge.”
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org