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May 06, 2011 10:00 PM

Waubay Water Woes

Waubay, SD

It's been another year of severe flooding for many parts of KELOLAND, especially in the town of Waubay. But the small northeast South Dakota community could be in for several more years of back-to-back flooding.

Blue Dog Lake north of Waubay broke a record with it's high water levels last year. But with water surrounding homes and crashing against cabins this year, it's already shattered that record by more than a foot and a half.

"We didn't expect the water to come up this fast and this high," Dave Jones said.

Living in a home along the lake, Jones has spent the spring fighting back. He has four pumps running and plywood set up in front of the house to break the waves before they can do much damage.

You can't even get a car down the road to his house anymore, and Blue Dog Lake is still on the rise.

"I park a couple houses away and walk in with rubber boots on,” Jones said. “Probably switching to hip waiters probably in the next few days, that's how high it's getting."

And that water is taking a toll on many other properties, both private and public.

"We're trying to protect what we have. The high water levels, the wave action along the lakes, it has caused some problems," Mayor Kevin Jens said.

The lake is surrounding sewer lift stations and the city is constantly taking steps to protect them. Meanwhile, some homeowners are reinforcing sandbag dikes with earth levees.

And these are all things people in Waubay are dealing with now. But the problems go well beyond that.

"This is something that's just going to be a constant battle for the next two, three years," Jens said.

To the south of town sits Bitter Lake. It's already surrounding homes and threatening several more.

"Oh it's just disheartening to see what's happening to my neighbors," Beverly Zubke said.

Bitter Lake doesn't have an outlet so as it rises, it doesn't go back down. Several people in the southern part of town, like Zubke, face the real possibility of being flooded out within the next few years.

"Well, at the present time I don't really have any options,” Zubke said. “That's kind of my problem. I don't really have any place to go."

That's something Jens says the city is addressing.

"We want these people to continue to live in our community. They are citizens of our community. They are our friends and our neighbors and so we're looking at options of getting them relocated to areas out of the flood plain," Jens said.

As water pushes people out, Waubay's city council is looking at ways to make land on higher ground available for people to build or relocate a home.

The city is also working with the state and federal government on a FEMA program that would allow homeowners to sell their flooded property to the government or raise or move their homes out of the flood plain.

Still, it's disheartening for people like Zubke who face a real possibility of a move forced by the lake.

"It's not such a great house but it's still a roof over my head and I feel like I can't replace it for what I would get out of it through the FEMA program even. So it's a dilemma, which way to go, what to do," Zubke said.

But the community is still gearing up for the water woes that lie ahead as it fights those there already.

"I've got four pumps running right now. And we're going to keep fighting it just to save the house and hopefully the water will stop coming and everything will start going backwards or at least stabilize," Jones said.

A flooded lake to the west of Waubay is also putting pressure on the city.

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