Combined water releases from Jamestown and Pipestem dams are expected to increase to 2,400 cubic feet per second by early next week, said Matt Nelson, water control specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during a public information meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Nelson said the increase is expected to be gradual, with 100 cfs added twice a day until both dams are each at 1,200 cfs.
"It won't take a whole lot of snow this winter to potentially create flood impacts next spring," Nelson said. "Further driving the point that we really need to get this water out now while we can still control as many variables as we can."
Allen Schlag, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said the outflow would likely continue until mid-November. Schlag said the calculated average for ice-over through recent data in the area was Nov. 25.
"There's just a lot of question marks, a lot of variables, that come into play when the ice comes in so we just really want to make it a top priority to get the water out before then," Nelson said.
Nelson said the water releases would then lower to 100 to 300 cfs during the winter months.
Arlie Lind, a resident on the James River for 27 years, disagreed with the decision to raise the water output from the two dams.
"I've seen 1,800 (cfs) a lot of times, but I've never seen it this high ... what I'd like to see is just stay at 1,800 (cfs) and extend that drainage time into the winter," Lind said. "As long as that dam is not in jeopardy of failing, let's hold it back a little more. Let's stay at 1,800. Let's not go up. That's going to hurt our community if you do.
"But apparently that decision has already been made," Lind said.
The city of Jamestown, Stutsman County, the city of LaMoure and LaMoure County have all made emergency declarations due to high water releases.
The city of Jamestown launched a sandbagging operation on Wednesday, and Darrel Hournbuckle, of Interstate Engineering which acts as the city engineer for Jamestown, said the goal is to create 65,000 sandbags for the city to use. Hournbuckle said he doesn't expect to use them all this week, but he said it would be "smart" to have some stored for emergency situations.
"This is controlled. It's not like the weather events where we have no idea what's coming," Hournbuckle said. "We want to get these into place now."
Hournbuckle said the sandbags would likely be kept in place through the winter and into the spring when the snow begins to melt.
"We're not sure how we'd get them out (in the winter)," Hournbuckle said. "Our preference is to leave them until spring ... if they're talking about not completing the releases until November, at that point, we might as well leave them there."
Jerry Bergquist, emergency manager for Stutsman County, said one month ago, on Sept. 16, both dams were within one foot of the ideal height going into winter.
"Both of those reservoirs need to get down to a certain winter elevation to get ready for the spring melt," Bergquist said. "What set this into motion was the 10 inches of rain."
Schlag said it was the wettest September on record for the state of North Dakota. Schlag said areas north of Jamestown in Wells County saw up to 10 inches of rainfall between Sept. 20-21, and much of that water entered the river system in Jamestown.
Schlag said the recent snowfall has only caused more water to build in both dams.
"It's not just the James River, we're seeing water move in North Dakota like we've never seen it move before,' Schlag said. "Out of 125 years of data, this is not something we have ever seen before."
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said volunteers are still needed to help with the sandbagging process. The operation will continue from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, in the parking lot of the Jamestown Civic Center.
Volunteers will also be needed anytime after 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19, to assist with sandbag placement. Heinrich said up to 100 volunteers will be needed to install the sandbags.
Hournbuckle said the increases are expected to begin shortly after sandbags are installed throughout Jamestown. Three locations are being located for sandbag placement, including 17th Avenue Southwest on the Pipestem Dam, near 10th Street Southwest behind Dairy Queen, and townhomes on 2nd Avenue Southwest.