County hears of water woes

County hears of water woes by David Lias There are some landowners who would like to see the Prairie City ditch in Prairie City Township restored to its original condition.

Other residents of this Clay County township fear, however, that opening the ditch up to its original condition will only hasten the flow of water from north to south toward the Vermillion River. Along with the faster flows, they fear, will come property damage in the form of soil erosion, flooding and washed out roads.

The Clay County Commission heard both sides of the issue at a recent hearing of 10 affected property owners. It concluded, after hearing citizen input, to continue the hearing on the ditch restoration to a future meeting.

It also agreed to seek the input of National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) engineers on the design that is needed to safely move water from the northern portion of the ditch all the way to its southern end, which is supposed to flow into the Vermillion River.

John H. Davidson, whose property lies along the southern end of the Prairie Center ditch, said even if the drainage structure was restored to its original design of approximately 40 years ago, it is presently receiving too much water than was originally intended.

�It is my assertion that the Prairie Center ditch is now operating at a capacity considerably greater than that originally authorized,� Davidson said in a written statement he presented to the commission.

Davidson claims that over the years property owners have run additional drainage tiles into the ditch, increasing the volume of water that eventually flows there.

It is the assertion of the affected landowners, Davidson stated, that the Prairie Center ditch has been enlarged so that it now carries flows in excess of the capacity originally approved by the Clay County Commission, and that a portion of the flows are, therefore, unlawful.

This issue has come before the Clay County Commission because some owners of property that drain into the ditch have presented a petition to the commission requesting that the ditch be restored to its original condition.

Those property owners are part of the Prairie Center Ditch District. Some of the property tax funds collected from land in the district, said Clay County Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold, is for the maintenance of the ditch, and for putting it back to its original design when necessary.

Sommervold said it was his understanding that when the ditch district was originally formed, downstream property owners chose not to participate.

Davidson said such a conclusion isn�t correct, however.

�If I can interject on that, I�ve examined the record, and actually the record doesn�t even show that the downstream landowners received formal notice,� Davidson said. �There is nothing on the record to support the conclusion that they chose not to be in (the district).�

Commissioner Paul Hasse said the ditch�s characteristics, especially on its southern end, add to some of the challenges of restoring it. Presently, water from the ditch that reaches the Vermillion River first flows into the river�s old channel, not directly into the river�s present channel.

�But I realize that the people who pay the taxes have the right to have their money spent to improve it, but to get back to when it started out, it should have gone all the way back to the river,� he said.

Davidson said one of the main problems with the ditch district is it is made up mainly of properties that benefit from the ditch along the ditch�s northern portion.

�For some reason, this district put all of the benefited properties in the district, and somehow left all of the damaged properties out of the district,� he said.

Davidson said the district should be designed so that properties that could possibly be damaged could have steps taken to avoid that damage, and properties that would be benefited would share the costs of avoiding the damage.

Davidson said drainage problems in the ditch today aren�t due to just the recent periods of heavy precipitation or the physical condition of the ditch. The drainage problems, he said, are largely due to all of the additional wetland areas currently being drained into the ditch.

�From the point of view of me, a downstream person, this is not a petition to restore the original ditch,� Davidson said. �This is a petition to restore the original ditch plus all the additional drainage.�

Those higher water flows have already destroyed at least one dam in the region of the ditch. �It was perhaps one of the most destructive practices in the county,� Davidson said of allowing the ditch to take on more and more water.

If the county doesn�t take steps to correct the damage, �you all make yourselves parties to this destructive activity,� he told the commissioners.

Sommervold said it would probably be best for the county commission to study the situation both legally and from an engineering standpoint before making a decision.

�I think we need to deal with an engineer and the NRCS,� said Sommervold, �and the state�s attorney on the legalities of expanding this district clear to the Vermillion River, and to deal with the engineering on this thing so it is done properly once and for all and that everyone that is affected by this is taken care of equally.�

The county commission, acting as the Clay County Ditch Board, agreed to table the hearing on the ditch restoration to a future meeting to give the ditch board time to fully study the issues and come up with possible solutions to the water woes in that part of the county.

�We would really seriously like to solve this problem,� Sommervold said, �and get it taken care of so that no one is getting hurt by all that water.�

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