On Tuesday, the James River at Columbia measured 16.6 feet, 3.6 feet above flood stage. The level was 17.4 feet in Stratford, 3.4 feet above flood stage, and 14.4 feet in Ashton, 1.4 feet above flood stage, according to Geological Survey information on the National Weather Service website.
Below-freezing temperatures are predicted for later this week, which will begin to freeze the surface of the river. If the river completely freezes above flood stage, that would leave little room for spring runoff, said Amy Parkin, a forecaster with expertise in hydrology at the weather service office in Aberdeen.
"If we freeze above flood stage, we are going to start the year out in flood stage," she said.
Lows are expected to be below freezing for the remainder of the week, with a low of 3 on Saturday and a low of 10 on Sunday, Parkin said. There is a 50 percent chance of snow Saturday. Temperatures will stay below freezing Saturday and Sunday with highs only in the 20s, she said.
There are two main reasons for the continued high water in the James River, Parkin said.
The first is that North Dakota has had more moisture this fall than Brown County. The two dams near Jamestown, N.D., continue to release slightly higher than normal amounts of water, she said. The second is that the James River moves very slowly, making it difficult to evacuate water.
"It can take four to five weeks for water released in Jamestown to reach Columbia," Parkin said. "There is just no elevation to the river. From border to border in South Dakota, the James only drops 100 feet."
Duane Sutton, Brown County Commission chairman, expressed concern at a commission meeting on Tuesday. The Brown County Highway Department has had to postpone the renovation of a bridge on County Road 13 over Crow Creek because water levels did not drop sufficiently to allow construction. The commission had to approve an extension date on the construction with completion date of 2013.
"What really concerns us is what if the (long range) forecast materializes and we get a lot of snow this winter," Sutton said. "We are not going to have much capacity in the spring."
Water levels at the concrete wall that separates the Crow Creek from James River south of the Putney Slough and east of Tacoma Park are 4 feet higher than last year, he said after the meeting.
The water in the Crow Creek drainage ditch, which is an important outlet for the Hecla area, is well out of its banks, he said.
"There really is no ditch, when you look at it," he said.
Sutton said that he hopes the cold weather predicted for this weekend will freeze only the top of the waterways and that water underneath will continue to flow.
"The water should flow for another month," he said. "Maybe the Jim River will drop 12 inches before it completely freezes."
Parkin said the level of the James River is nearly the same as it was one year ago. The river froze above flood stage at Ashton a year ago, she said.
In the next week, the river is expected to drop about 6 inches at Columbia and 8 inches at Stratford, according to the weather service website. That would put those areas in a mild flooding category, but still well above flood stage. There is little drop predicted for Ashton in the next week, according to the site.
"It all depends on the temperatures in the coming weeks, but there is a potential for all three sites to freeze above flood stage," she said.