Oakes, N.D., area drainage ditch project plans on hold

Farm Forum

An Oakes, N.D.-area drainage project is waiting for the potential go-ahead from state officials.

There is no time frame for when the state engineer might rule on two drainage application proposals from the Dickey-Sargent Joint Water Resource District, said John Paczkowski, chief of the regulatory section for the North Dakota Water Commission.

The Dickey-Sargent district has approved the applications. But because the project was deemed to be of statewide significance, it also needs state approval, Paczkowski said.

All permits that the water commission approves come with stipulations, Paczkowski said.

Under the proposal, a new drainage ditch would connect to what’s called the Oakes Pilot Drain, which already runs east from the James River for about two and a half miles to just southeast of Oakes. The new ditch would run south from the end of the existing channel for about a mile, then turn east and run along North Dakota Highway 11 for about four and a half miles. There would be a lift station near the Dickey/Sargent county line that would pump water from the east to the west.

Land northeast of the pump is generally in a closed basin, so the water now has no way to escape. Some local property owners hope to move the water on that land to the James River.

Also included in the project would be an offshoot that would run about a mile south of the new ditch. That would be west of the lift station, and there would be a 1 -mile-long unconnected channel northeast of the lift station. That would help trapped water flow into a body of water, then to the larger proposed ditch along the highway.

Until the water commission approves the permits, though, the proposal is in a holding pattern, said Sean Fredricks, an attorney from West Fargo representing the Dickey-Sargent Joint Water Resource District.

He said that if the water commission approves the permits, the district will have to work with federal agencies and schedule a vote to see if residents want to create a taxing district to help fund the more than $4 million project. Before any of that happens, though, the district needs to hear back from the state and see what stipulations the permits might have.

Until there’s word from the water commission, it’s tough to craft a timeline for the drainage proposal, Fredricks said.

Early in the process, the Dickey-Sargent Joint Water Resource District sought feedback from Brown County about the proposal. A prime concern is that no water will be moved into the James while the river is at flood stage in Brown County, said Gary Vetter, county planning and zoning director.

Vetter said that sometimes when the river is within its channeled banks north of the state line, water is spreading out over property in northern Brown County, where the banks are flat. He said he sent the county’s concerns to the North Dakota state engineer’s office so they could be considered during the permit process.