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Water releases planned through January

jamestown reservoir spillway.jpg
The spillway or "glory hole" can be seen as motorists drive across the Jamestown Dam Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. The water level continues to rise in the reservoir. John M. Steiner / The Sun

A "crazy amount of water" in the upper James River basin will force officials to maintain higher than normal releases from Jamestown and Pipestem dams into the winter, according to Matt Nelson, engineer with the water control division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nelson told members of the public gathered at an informational meeting Tuesday that precipitation in areas that feed into the dams was as much as 400% above normal for the past two months.

The Corps plans to maintain the current level of releases at 1,200 cubic feet per second from each dam until the reservoirs and river begin to freeze over. At that time, adjustments to the flows will be made while the ice forms until releases are set at a combined 800 cfs until the reservoirs are drawn down to the planned winter level, possibly in late February.

Allen Schlag, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said the ice conditions that form this year will be different than any other winter.

"Much more hazardous," he said. "Ice jams on the river are a concern."

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Schlag said the movement of the water will form thinner ice that is not as stable. If it breaks up and chunks catch against a bridge or other obstacle, water could back up flooding an area.

"At the James River, we're not sure how much of an increase in river level to expect from an ice jam," he said.

Residents living along the James were urged to call 911 if they see river levels increasing from ice conditions, said Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.

The other hazard will be on the ice of the Jamestown and Pipestem reservoirs. As the water levels fall, air pockets can form under the ice.

"An air pocket of 6 inches is enough to lose a vehicle real quick," Schlag said.

Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser said once the ice forms, going on the ice of the Jamestown or Pipestem reservoirs will be prohibited. All access points to the lakes will be blocked along with signs informing people of the hazards. Kaiser also said if someone disregards the warnings and goes on the ice, rescue or recovery would have to wait until the ice conditions improve or the spring melt.

"We don't want to put our people at risk," Kaiser said.

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