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Water and ice

The James River at LaMoure has jumped its banks and is encroaching on the Sportsman's Park at the town's edge. The river level was about 6 inches below the bridge beams Tuesday. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The water gets deeper and the problems more severe as you travel south on the James River, according to officials charged with operating the James River.

Allen Schlag, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, told officials gathered at the James River operations meeting in Jamestown Thursday that ice jams on the James River below Pipestem and Jamestown dams were causing the river level at the city of LaMoure to be about 4 feet higher than would be indicated by the amount of water flowing through the river.

"The ice there has far outlived expectations," Schlag said.

The Civil Air Patrol is flying the southern part of the James River in North Dakota on a daily basis to monitor ice conditions, he said.

As of Thursday morning, the James River at the city of LaMoure was at 15.9 feet just short of the moderate flood stage of 16 feet. Kimberly Robbins, LaMoure County emergency manager, said the city of LaMoure was preparing for the river to continue to rise.

"The city of LaMoure is taking action to protect the city to 17 feet," Robbins said. "They are reinforcing the existing levee system to 17 feet."

Community volunteers and students from Litchville-Marion School District placed sandbags and large tote bags filled with sand along the levies in the city of LaMoure Thursday.

The state of North Dakota has also sent to LaMoure an additional 100,000 sandbags as well as other flood fighting equipment in case it is needed, Robbins said.

Robbins said ice jams can cause fluctuations in river levels of as much as a foot at any time.

Lee Miller, LaMoure County commissioner, represented the county at the river operations meeting, said the county is receiving assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Robbins said the James River at the Adrian gauge upstream from LaMoure was down about 18 inches Thursday morning when compared to the Wednesday morning reading. Levels at LaMoure were steady to slowly rising as of Thursday morning.

Further south, Jay Peterson, manager at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern South Dakota, said the James River there is flowing at them from both directions.

Peterson said the Elm River flows into the James River from the west at Columbia, S.D. The amount of water entering the James River from the Elm has increased the level of the James at Columbia to the point that water in the James River is flowing north at a rate of about 2,000 cfs at the same time the main flow of the James River comes at them from the north.

"Sand Lake has received a lot of water very quickly," Peterson said.

Schlag said given the shallow slope of the James River, reversals of flows are not unexpected.

The situation north of Jamestown and Pipestem dams is entirely different.

"The runoff has fizzled," said Darrin Goetzfried with the Bureau of Reclamation. "We were surprised by the infiltration of water into the ground."

Jessica Batterman, hydraulic engineer for the Corps of Engineers, said the flows into the lakes behind Jamestown and Pipestem dams have peaked and are beginning to decline. The amount of water that will pass through the two dams is considered moderate, estimated between 90,000 and 120,000 acre feet. Combined releases from the two dams are estimated to peak at less than 750 cfs.

That level does not require any flood preparation in Jamestown, according to Travis Dillman, city engineer for Interstate Engineering.

When the releases will begin is still not known and will be based on when the ice leaves the river and river levels downstream begin to decline. Currently, no water is being released at Jamestown Dam and 9 cfs from Pipestem Dam.

"We'll hold off with releases as long as we can to mitigate downstream conditions," Batterman said.

Schlag said all river level forecasts are based on continued normal weather conditions in the region.

"There are spring rains in the forecast for the next few days," he said. "Mostly on Saturday with even a possible thunderstorm. Local areas of up to an inch of rain are possible."

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