BURLINGTON It is not much of a dam. It doesn't hold back a great amount of water but it certainly creates a great deal of discussion.
Many people living below Burlington Dam No. 1 on the Des Lacs River agree with the State Water Commission's recommendation from 2011 that the dam be removed. Others say it would be best to upgrade the dam and make it a more viable flood control structure.
Burlington Dam No. 1 is located immediately above homes on South Project Road in Burlington. During record flooding in 2011 water flowed over the top of the dam, creating concern about a possible collapse. State authorities who closely examined the situation at the time agreed that the dam might give way, but said the impact downstream would be very minimal because the dam is a relatively low structure.
A Labrador retriever awaits instruction from his trainer at the Minot Retriever Club. Club members say water on their grounds will revert back to the Des Lacs River channel if proposed changes are made to Burlington Dam No. 1.
These are the control valves on the slide gate outlet at Burlington Dam No. 1. The Ward County Water Board has requested the structure be removed so that Des Lacs River water will free flow prior to entering the Burlington Project housing area.
No one would say with certainty what would have happened if the dam had collapsed. Estimates were that it would have created perhaps an extra foot of water in areas near the dam that were already flooded. Some residents felt otherwise, believing the impact could be much greater.
During a public meeting held in 2011 in Burlington the State Water Commission suggested that the dam be removed as soon as possible following high water. The dam emerged from beneath the floodwater and remains in place today. It is an earthen dam with an eroding concrete spillway on the south side and a structure fitted with three turn valves on the north side. When open, the valves permit the water backed up behind the dam to be reduced below spillway level.
The dam is an old one, built in 1935 for the purpose of providing irrigation water for gardens in the immediate area. That reason has long since passed but the dam has remained. According to Jonathan Kelsch, a construction engineer for the State Water Commission, the water control valves were to have remained open following the 2011 flood.
"They were to remain open," said Kelsch, "But they were closed and, because access is difficult, nobody noticed when they were closed. The gates have been closed without authorization from the Ward County Water District."
Recently the valves were opened again and the level of water behind the dam dropped. According to Maurice Foley, Ward County Water Board, the opening of the valves was a necessary prelude to the removal of the control structure on the dam.
"The Water Board recommended it be removed last fall and the State Water Commission agreed to it," said Foley. "The water will go down to the river channel. The water is going to stay down."
According to Kelsch there is no agreement in place for such work to commence, but he acknowledged the State Water Commission has been requested to assist in removing the outlet structure to establish an unobstructed release through the dam. Kelsch cites public concern during flooding events and the poor condition of the dam embankment as reasons for the proposed project.
If the control structure were to be removed it would pose a problem immediately upstream where the Minot Retriever Club grounds are located. The earthen dam backs up water onto their grounds, making it an ideal area for training and hosting field trials. If the current effort to remove the dam comes to fruition, the water on the retriever grounds would be too low to serve the club's primary purposes.
"I can't believe we can't find some way to maintain that water so we can keep the only retriever club in the state of North Dakota," said Dr. Richard Crisera, Minot. "I joined the Retriever Club in the 1970s and we've been using the same water ever since."
Ed Sehm, president of the Retriever Club, says he understands what people below the dam are going through and that they want to take every precaution to protect their property. However, he adds, there might yet be a way to please everybody.
"Maybe drain it in the fall and close it back up later in the spring so we can have some water," said Sehm.
Long-time club member George Malaktaris has participated in numerous AKC registered field trials at the Minot grounds. Without water, says Malaktaris, the grounds will no longer meet the standards necessary to host the club's signature national field trial.
"It's sad," said Malaktaris. "It is recognized as one of the real good field trial grounds in the United States. Twenty guys started this club in 1956 and bought the land and now it will go down the drain."
The small lake backed up behind the dam covers about 38 surface acres. Holding capacity is believed to have been greatly reduced due to sediment build-up that has occurred since the dam was built. If the control structure is removed the Des Lacs River will free flow in that section of the river for the first time since 1935.