Noem proposes $4M to replace Elm Lake dam

PIERRE, S.D. (From American News Staff Reports) – Gov. Kristi Noem has proposed spending $4 million in state money to replace the Elm Lake dam.

She made the proposal in her annual budget address Tuesday afternoon in Pierre.

Elm Lake is the source to about one-third of Aberdeen’s drinking water, the governor said. She said damage from a July storm affected the dam.

“The state appropriated an emergency $521,000 for the dam in 2019 after an engineering report noted that the concrete in the dam was unfixable. That fix worked for a time, but it no longer meets state safety guidelines for capacity. After this summer’s storm, it is clear that the time has come to replace the dam entirely before more damage is inflicted on the area,” Noem said during her address.

Under her proposal, the $4 million will come from state one-time money. She also suggested another $1 million for critical maintenance on other dams in the state.

The dam is just one of the structures maintained by South Dakota School and Public Lands. To date, the city of Aberdeen has set aside $1 million for the project, but in a recent update to the Brown County Commission in November, School and Public Lands Commissioner Ryan Brunner said more enhancements were needed, which will increase the cost of the project. Those enhancements include making the structure wider and higher to meet current safety standards. The changes won’t change the holding capacity of the dam, Brunner said, but will allow the structure to hold more water back during high water events.

While the dam holds water back which is used by the city’s water treatment plant and residents, Brunner presented that information to the county commission because there’s county land that abuts the dam and, if the structure were to be widened, permission will be needed from the county.

In a phone interview Tuesday after Noem’s speech, Brunner said the $4 million recommendation from the governor, if approved by the State Legislature, will ensure this project moves forward.

“It wouldn’t have been possible for the project to move forward without the governor making it a priority,” Brunner said.

Project details are still being finalized, Brunner said, so an estimated cost was not available Tuesday, but he expects the project to be bid during the legislative session. He expects work to happen in fall 2021 when water levels are lower.

Aberdeen City Manager Joe Gaa the Elm Lake spillway is an important structure for the city of Aberdeen. The city’s water treatment plant uses a combination of water from shallow wells and the Elm River to meet the daily needs of city residents.

“If the river starts to dry up, the water from the spillway keeps that water flowing,” Gaa said.