Flood waters on the south side of Highway 200 are not receding, area residents say, and the lingering water is imperiling about 30 homes. It’s also raising questions among residents about the drainage setup for that stretch of highway.
Tim Cayko is chairman of Yellowstone Township.
“The drainage system out here is meant to just drain irrigation water,” he said. “When the river water came in, it backed in across 200 and filled up I don’t know how many acres of farmland. The only way out is one of the two large drainage ditches, and they are running plum full, and have been the last three or four days.”
Last year, when Cayko went to irrigate his field of beets, he noticed that the grade wasn’t correct for the newly constructed highway’s drainage system.
“I had them come back, and they did some dozing and moved some dirt,” Cayko said. “The guy from DOT did tell me that they reshot it last fall to get it back to grade. I told him then would be the time to fix it, because if it floods, it’s not going to be so good.”
Joe Wilt, Williston’s district engineer, acknowledged that there were some grading issues in that area that were scheduled to be fixed this year. However, he and Cayko both say that’s not what is causing the slow drainage problems.
Drain No. 27
Cayko said that area has flooded in the past, and experienced slow draining then as well.
“Most of the land has to drain back through the northwest to that one single drain (No. 27),” he said. “There is just so much water, it is going to take forever for it to get out of there.”
DOT officials brought in equipment to dig out the culvert Friday.
“That will help some,” Cayko said. “But it’s not going to run much, because that drain is full,” Cayko said.
Meanwhile, Cayko said the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation District has dug holes into lateral ditches in the area, trying to help provide some relief.
These also lead into Drain 27.
Larger culverts could equalize the flow under the roads, but would also just lead to Drain 27. Same for cutting a trench across the road.
“Plus, then we’d have to close down the road, and no one could get to their houses,” Wilt said. “What they really need is more drainage on that south side of the road that goes to the river.”
Cayko said much the same thing. Yellowstone Township will be looking at ways to alleviate the pressure on Drain 27 in the future, he added. One possibility might be to lay pipes under the LYIP’s lateral ditches leading out to the river, to more quickly drain the water.
That would take involvement from both LYIP and landowners, Cayko said.
“I’ve never seen water up this high,” the township’s chairman added.
Four hundred of his 500-acre irrigated fields are still under water. That’s not likely to drain away and dry in time for Cayko’s usual planting dates.
“This year I know there were at least 15 miles of ice that came down the river,” he said. “It made it almost to the Confluence. That’s usually the stopping point.”
Ice at the Confluence, however, was still hard, and thicker than usual, since the breakup was a little earlier than usual. That stopped everything in a slightly different location than usual.
Lingering water means increased safety concerns
For residents of the Fairview-Cartwright area seeking to reclaim their flooded homes, the lingering water means heightened safety concerns.
“There’s more potential for black mold,” said McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karolin Jappe. “And it just breaks things down. The concrete, the foundation. There’s more potential for collapse of the structures.”
Jappe said she looks at the water on her way home each night.
“The water has literally not dropped at all,” she said. “I’m not sure why it’s not draining, but I cannot tell you how many people are calling me and coming in.”
She estimates there are at least 30 homes that people have not been able to get back to yet, and she is concerned that lingering water could make some that might have been saved unsalvageable.
She plans to continue community lunches on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Fairview at the Senior Center, to give updates about the situation. Questions or concerns may be called into the Fairview Firehall at 406-489-0390, a line that Jappe established specifically for flood victims. She is checking the line regularly to answer all of its calls.
She also asks that if people have photos for her, to bring them to the fire hall so she can put them directly into her computer, rather than texting them to her phone.
Jappe has also opened up the McKenzie County Flood Relief Fund 2019 at the First International Bank and Trust in Watford City for donations to help those affected by flooding.
Contributions to that fund can be mailed to the bank, or made online through the North Dakota Community Foundation, at https://bit.ly/2OMW98p.
NDCF has waived all its fees for administering donations to the relief effort, though credit card processing fees for contributions still apply.
All of the money collected for the relief fund will be passed through to Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response and 100 percent of it will be used for unmet needs.
An Unmet Needs Committee, composed of trusted community members from the Fairview-Cartwright area, will be formed to review applications and determine how best to divide the available money to those who need it most. This structure is similar to one Jappe used when Watford City was struck by a tornado last year.
“It’s the fairest, best way to work with people who have been put in a disaster,” Jappe said.
Fairview’s Ministerial Alliance is also collecting donations for immediate needs that the flooding victims have, such as clothing, emergency shelter, medications and fuel. Merchants Bank in Fairview has set up an account for that effort.