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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published July 29 2010

Rural North Dakota dams getting repair funds

BISMARCK – Two North Dakota counties will get almost $500,000 in state help to pay for repairs to dam spillways that were partially washed away by spring rains in the past two years.

The state Water Commission on Wednesday approved the aid, which will benefit the spillways at the Absaraka Dam, about 40 miles west of Fargo in Cass County, and the Cottonwood Creek Dam, five miles south of LaMoure in southeastern North Dakota.

The earthen spillways in both dams will be lined with interlocking concrete blocks, said Todd Sando, North Dakota’s state engineer. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is part of the U.S. Agriculture Department, will pay most of the repair bills. Both projects should be completed this year.

Spillways release water from a dam when the lake behind it gets too full. Heavy spring rains have forced water over the spillways on both dams, and they “haven’t held together really well,” Sando said.

“If we could harden that surface, we feel that we could protect these emergency spillways a lot better,” Sando said. “It’s a lot more expensive, but it’s a much better fix.”

During the meeting, commission member Harley Swenson asked if a poured concrete structure, instead of blocks, could be a better repair option. It would be less prone to leaks and cost about the same, he said.

Sando said the blocks would be less expensive and offer better protection against erosion. Blocks would adjust to any terrain changes in the spillway, while a rigid concrete structure would not, he said.

The Water Commission voted to provide $114,783 for the Absaraka Dam, which is expected to cost about $900,000 to repair. The commission also agreed to provide $373,400 of the estimated $2.5 million cost of repairing the Cottonwood Creek Dam. Although both dam spillways have sustained erosion damage, neither has failed.

The Cottonwood dam is next to Lake LaMoure, a 500-acre lake that is a popular local recreation spot. It has playground and camping facilities, a beach and a swimming area.

“It is a unique area for North Dakota that is heavily used ... and it would be a tragedy to lose it,” Ron Splitt, chairman of the LaMoure Recreation Board, said in a letter to the commission.

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