Watertown City Council and US Army Corps of Engineers work on contracts for Lake Kampeska

WATERTOWN, S.D.(Press Release)-  After about a two-hour closed non-public executive session meeting between the City Council and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about “contracts,” the public portion of the meeting contained a “high-level” update, with more to come on July 8, 2024.

Over the past year and a half, the Corps has incorporated public feedback into the study. Residents raised concerns about the project’s scope, the potential impact on Lake Kampeska, and securing funding for any chosen solution.

The USACE presented a range of potential solutions to address these concerns. These included leaving the river system as-is (considered the baseline for comparison), temporarily lowering the water level of Lake Kampeska, constructing levees of varying heights, and widening or lowering the Big Sioux River channel.

The following steps involve selecting the most economically justified option, the “tentatively selected plan,” during a meeting with city leaders on July 8th. A draft report outlining the study’s findings and recommendations will be released for public review in mid-September.

Finalizing the recommended plan is expected by June 2025. Following federal review, which can take up to six months, construction hinges on funding approval by Congress through the Water Resources Development Act, typically passed in even-numbered years. The exact timeline for construction remains uncertain due to the funding process.

The meeting showed the potential strategies for safeguarding Watertown from future floods.

Brad Johnson, a Lake Kampeska Water District representative, questioned the reclassification of the 1997 flood event from a 100-year event to a 50-year event. He expressed concern that this reclassification could increase the flood risk in Watertown. However, the officials clarified that the reclassification was based on 20 years of additional data and did not necessarily increase discharges related to the events.

Johnson also questioned the decision to write off the concept of the Mahoney Creek Dam, which was proposed 30 years ago. The officials explained that the decision was based on several factors, including the need to acquire land, the impact on reservation land, and landowner feedback. They also noted that Congress had chosen not to fund the project when it was proposed.

The officials also addressed concerns about the lack of flood protection for the lake. They explained that they were considering a viable alternative for the residents who would be impacted and were still developing what that would look like.

Concerns about the potential environmental impact of lowering Lake Kampeska’s water level, a proposed solution included in the USACE’s initial plans. Questions focused on the effect on recreation, aquatic life, and the overall health of the lake ecosystem. The Corps emphasized that the temporary lowering of the lake level would be carefully monitored and minimized to avoid ecological damage. They reassured residents that the draft report would include a comprehensive environmental assessment.

Questions about the long-term maintenance costs associated with different flood protection solutions were raised. Residents wanted to ensure the chosen plan would be sustainable in the long run. The Corps acknowledged the importance of long-term maintenance and explained that the draft report would outline the anticipated maintenance needs and associated costs for each proposed solution.

The USACE explained that the levee heights were determined based on the level of flood protection each option would provide. A cost-benefit analysis will be conducted to identify the most economically justified levee option while still achieving the desired level of protection.

The meeting concluded with the officials reminding the attendees that a draft report would be available for comment, targeting September 9th. They also encouraged the public to submit comments through the city’s website.