RICE LAKE - Portions of decks, the occasional door to a shed and other debris can be found floating in Rice Lake these days.
The wreckage is the result of rising water that has flooded lakefront cabins and forced some weary property owners to give up the fight. Just underneath the water is an assortment of brick firepits, retaining walls, water lines and electrical panels.
The debris and hidden underwater obstacles means operators of boats and personal watercraft must be extra vigilant while on the water. Last summer watercraft use was restricted at Rice Lake because it was thought the wakes from boats and jet skis would add to the agony of cabin owners battling rising water with sandbags, pumps and plastic sheeting.
This year, despite continued high water, Rice Lake residents voted to allow watercraft on the lake once again. If the water couldn't be stopped, at least they would make an attempt to enjoy it.
Rice Lake has risen more than four feet in the past two years. Any enjoyment on the water is tempered by the fact that continued flooding has sent some residents packing and impacted many others.
"There's about eight cabins surrounded by water, another dozen or so encroaching right up to the front wall," said Steve Zaun, Rice Lake. "There's another 40 or 50 relatively close with water in crawl spaces or basements. About half the cabins are affected."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • This Rice Lake cabin has been abandoned due to high water, but these ducks have taken a liking to the flooded porch. A long-term solution to flooding trouble at the lake is still being sought.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Several inches of water is inside what used to be a permanent residence at Rice Lake. A number of Rice Lake properties have been similarly affected due to high water.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Rice Lake has risen more than four feet higher than what most residents consider an average level for the popular Ward County get-away.
"When you consider sheds, beaches and swimming, a lot of them can't be used in a normal way," added Bob Hargrave, Rice Lake. "We're really trying to warn the public about the dangers to boating here."
There are 168 properties on the Ward County lake, and 35 of them have year-round residents. One of them, Jerome Hilson, was forced to vacate his property. A sandbag wall and 11 pumps were finally overwhelmed by the rising water. About six inches of water covered the carpeting in the home this past week.
"People say we are lucky to have only six or eight inches of water. Well, it's been that way for months," said Hilson. "The water entered our home in early March of this year and is still rising. That was our only residence."
Ward board's action at special meeting
During a special meeting of the Ward County Water Resource Board Friday, the board:
- Passed a motion to deny a drainage complaint from Gerald Fredriksen against Rice Lake Service District. The board noted that Rice Lake is not pumping at this time. The motion passed 3-2.
- Passed a motion that no action be taken on a complaint from Delos Haugen against Rice Lake Service District because Rice Lake is not pumping. The motion passed 4-1.
- Rice Lake Services District application for construction of dikes that have been built for a year was granted, providing 2-feet of freeboard be maintained during pumping. The motion was approved unanimously.
Hilson and his wife had moved from Minot to the lake property on which they had done extensive remodeling work, so much so that they decided to make it their permanent home. Now they have moved back to Minot, living in the basement of his mother-in-law's home near Arrowhead Shopping Center.
Hilson said he had flood insurance, but now considers himself homeless without any closure possible in the foreseeable future. Waiting for Rice Lake to decline may not be a very prudent option.
Last year Rice Lake underwent an aggressive pumping campaign. The pumping moved a great deal of water from the lake to a storage area located to the northeast, but on higher ground. The lake elevation dropped more than a foot due to the pumping, but money to operate the pumps ran out. Then water pumped above Rice Lake made its way underground until it reached the Douglas Aquifer. The water seeped back into Rice Lake, which is now even higher than it was prior to the pumping.
"We've talked to hydrologists. They say the Douglas Aquifer could run full for several years. It is a huge amount of water that Rice Lake is sitting on," said Zaun. "It's amazing. It's all around us."
To the west of Rice Lake is a body of water known as "Peterson's Slough." Normally it is forgotten and somewhat hidden among the cattails, but not today. The slough is closer to lake status than anyone can remember. It has risen so much that it is overflowing across the paved road on Rice Lake's west side. It is there where much of the flooding of lakefront property, including the Hilsons', has occurred.
At the south end of the lake flooding has been extensive too. Once the envy of other cabin owners because of the close proximity of water to the front door of their properties, those cabins have either been removed or are flooded. The road there has been raised, but water remains on both sides. At the north end of the lake, also a low area, lakefront property is now underneath the water.
Rice Lake residents recently held a meeting to consider what might be done to alleviate the problem. Another pumping program, albeit on a smaller scale, is scheduled to get under way soon. It is not expected to provide a solution; it's only an attempt to slow the current rise. The hope for a permanent solution recently received a boost when the State Water Commission gave the okay for a $2.8 million grant towards construction of a pipeline that would carry Rice Lake water about 10 1/2 miles south of the lake.
"We'll move forward with that," said Hargrave. "We'll start the permit process now. We have a 30-day comment period and will have to do an environmental assessment. That should take us well into the fall."
The commitment from the State Water Commission is for 60 percent of the cost of the pipeline project. The remainder, said Hargrave, will come from property owners at Rice Lake.
"We feel pretty good about it," said Zaun. "The general feeling is we need to do this, regardless. We don't have any choice."
The pipeline would carry less than five cubic feet per second of water, which would dump into Douglas Creek. Douglas Creek drains into Lake Sakakawea. According to Hargrave, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not objected to the plan. However, landowners along the route will have to give their approval and the water will have to pass an environmental study.
"If all goes well, and things change daily, it will be late summer or early fall next year when we turn the pump on," said Zaun.
Snowfall runoff was virtually non-existent at Rice Lake this past spring, a very unusual occurrence. No one knows how much rain will fall this year, how much snow will fall in the upcoming winter or how much runoff will enter Rice Lake from above ground next spring.
In the meantime Rice Lake continues to rise at the rate of a quarter to half-inch per day, much more if it rains, and the popular get-away remains one of the low points along the hidden Douglas Aquifer.