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Pipestem releases aim to improve water quality

Keith Norman / The Sun Releases of 100 cubic feet per second still create white caps as the water rolls out of the spillway at Jamestown Dam Tuesday. During the peak of releases during the 2009 flood, 1,800 cfs were released from the dam.

Releases are continuing from the Jamestown and Pipestem dams in an effort to lower lake levels after fall rains and improve water quality, according to Bob Martin, dam manager for the two reservoirs.

“The last couple of weeks the inflows have about matched the outflows,” he said. “There are some additional springs that start flowing every fall as well.”

Currently, officials are releasing 80 cubic feet per second from Pipestem Dam and 100 cfs from Jamestown Dam.

The reservoir behind Jamestown Dam is at its conservation pool or the level it is maintained through the winter at 1,428 feet mean sea level. The level at Pipestem Dam is about 9 inches above its conservation pool at 1,442.4 feet msl.

Martin said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to maintain releases of 5 cfs through the winter from Pipestem Dam. This release will be made through the low-level gates and will draw water from the bottom of the lake.

Releases of 5 cfs amount to about 38 gallons of water per second or about 3.2 million gallons of water per day.

“Previous winter releases have been made from the surface,” Martin said. “It is a little more difficult to release water from the bottom. The controls are outside and get covered with ice but it should help water quality through the winter.”

Low water quality became an issue at Pipestem Dam last winter.

“We saw some pretty low oxygen readings across the entire impoundment last year,” said B.J. Kratz, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Jamestown. “We even saw partial fish kills in the lake.”

Kratz said wave action, caused by wind, through the summer caused the water to circulate and improved the quality.

“Typically, oxygen levels decline in late December or early January,” he said. “The fall turnover supplies oxygen throughout the water but the ice cap prevents new oxygen so by February the (oxygen in the) lakes are at the lowest levels.”

The Game and Fish Department will continue to monitor the oxygen levels in the lakes throughout the winter, Kratz said.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at