JAMESTOWN, N.D. — City employees and volunteers across the Jamestown area worked together to begin building sandbag levees along parts of the James River Friday, Oct. 18, but more help is needed as water could threaten some homes by early next week, officials said.
About 25 volunteers at a time worked to place sandbags in the backyards of townhomes near Second Avenue Southwest. Darrel Hournbuckle, of Interstate Engineering, which acts as the city engineer for Jamestown, said homes in Jamestown would begin to see flood damage by next week without more volunteers.
"It's been pretty low on volunteers, both the bagging operations and here (at the sandbag placement site)," Hournbuckle said. "Water could be in these people's houses by Tuesday and we've only got two really nice days to place these sandbags."
Hournbuckle said the sandbagging situation was "extremely urgent" as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Wednesday, Oct. 16, that water releases from Jamestown and Pipestem dams would increase to a combined 2,400 cfs by Saturday, Oct. 26. The decision to increase the water releases is due to both reservoirs being above the target elevation going into the winter season.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, the National Weather Service website reported the pool elevation of the Jamestown Dam at 1,435.23 feet and rising, which is nearly 4 feet above the base of the flood control zone. The pool elevation for Pipestem Dam was 1,462.33 feet and rising, nearly 19 feet above the base of the flood control zone.
The Corps said the upstream gauges in the James River basin continue to rise as snowmelt runoff reaches the river system.
Gov. Doug Burgum, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state officials will meet with local officials and community members affected by flooding on Monday, Oct. 21, in Fargo, Grand Forks, Fessenden and Jamestown.
Travis Dillman, also of Interstate Engineering, said the sandbagging operation was looking for about 200 volunteers to help place sandbags near the banks of the James River.
"We need this done so they (Corps of Engineers) can actually start ramping up those (water) releases right away," Dillman said. "We want this all done before the rain starts to come. We need a lot of help."
Nathan Heinert, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said rain in the Jamestown area was "very likely" over the weekend.
"Sunday and Monday ... it's going to rain. It's still up in the air of how much, the models are kind of all over the place, but there is going to be rain," Heinert said. "Right now, officially, the forecast is saying anywhere from half an inch to three-quarters of an inch across the James River Valley area. It will mostly fall as rain, but there's a chance some snow might be mixing in."
Allen Schlag, a hydrologist for NWS, said that although rain is likely, the impact won't be "substantial."
"There's definitely going to be some runoff, but a plus in the situation is that it's going to be a light rain and not a summer thunderstorm-type rain," Schlag said. "It's just going to be an additive to what we're already dealing with. It's not going to make things that much worse."
Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator, said one month ago, on Sept. 16, both reservoirs were within one foot of the ideal height going into the winter season. Bergquist said two storms, continuing precipitation and saturated soils have raised the water levels in the river system significantly.
Matt Nelson, a water control specialist with the Corps, said the target date for the water releases to decrease would be in mid-November, before the reservoirs freeze for the winter months. Nelson said high winter releases are "not advisable" due to safety risks, potential damage to embankment and outlet works, the risk of localized flooding due to ice jams or plugged storm sewers and the risk for a worse flood in the spring due to saturated soil.
Nelson said the water release increases next week would come in increments of 100 cfs twice a day until both dams were at an even 1,200 cfs.
Dillman said the goal was to have 65,000 sandbags, but extra sandbags would be stored for emergencies. As of midafternoon Friday, Dillman said approximately 14,000 sandbags had been made in Jamestown. The city of Fargo donated 40,000 sandbags that were also expected to be placed Friday.
Two sandbag machines were borrowed from the State Emergency Operations Center in order to make sandbags in Jamestown, according to the governor's office.
Dillman said volunteers and city employees would be working at the placement sites throughout the day Friday and Saturday, hoping to complete the project before the anticipated rainfall on Sunday.
"People can help anytime throughout the day, even if it's just for an hour or two," Dillman said. "We have shuttles leaving the Civic Center every half hour or so."
The NWS extended a flood warning on Friday to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, for Stutsman, Foster and LaMoure counties.