HURON - The Davison County grazing management project is moving along swiftly, helping participating farmers and landowners improve their soil in the process.

Chuck Pyle, private lands biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provided an update on the project to the James River Water Development District's Board of Directors during Thursday's meeting in Huron.

"The project has been aiming to help with grazing management, along with managing a lot of the landowners' grasslands," Pyle said. "We are helping them implement ways to improve soil health and wildlife through various grazing techniques."

Pyle said the initial grant in 2017 that's been funding the project was $177,500, which the JRWDD matched with $30,000. Pyle said $2,000 came from private landowners, along with $15,000 from technical assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The project centered around helping participating private landowners look for ways to improve their grasslands and soil health, which in turn helps provide more wildlife habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been partners with the Davison County Conservation District throughout the project, and they've been joined by Ducks Unlimited, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Pheasants Forever. According to Pyle, there are nine counties with landowners along the James River watershed involved in the grazing project.

Of the nine counties, Hanson, Sanborn, Hutchinson and Aurora counties make up the list of surrounding areas with private landowners participating in the project.

Pyle said there were plenty of private landowners that expressed interest in joining the project, looking for assistance in grazing management.

"Within the project, eight locations have already been completed, and we've spent just over $108,000, and we're about 500 acres away from reaching our goal," Pyle said Thursday during the project update.

With just 500 acres of land left until the project reaches its 2,000 acre goal, Pyle expects to wrap up by December of 2019, which is the target deadline of the project.

"It's been a pretty good year across the landscape of the whole project, and it's been a little bit drier, but we're seeing a lot of our private landowners we're working with enjoy positive outcomes on their land," Pyle said.

Even more flooding expected

The heavy amount of snowfall and precipitation that rocked the southeast portion of the state this winter has the James River Basin expected to see major flooding throughout the summer.

During Thursday's meeting, Jessica Batterman, hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the James River in Mitchell is expected to experience major flooding as early as today.

"The lower James River Basin as a whole has a 60 plus percent chance to hit major flood stages this year," Batterman said Thursday. "Down south, we're already seeing the impacts of major flooding, but we don't anticipate to see those rises until April."

While the portion of the James River that flows through Mitchell has over a 50 percent chance to experience major flooding, areas north as far as Forestburg and Huron aren't expected to reach major flood levels within the next week, according to a National Weather Service report Batterman presented during the meeting.

Batterman updated the JRWDD Board of Directors on the upstream reservoirs in Jamestown, North Dakota, which release water into the James River that flows downstream through South Dakota. Batterman said the Jamestown and Pipestem reservoirs are expecting a medium-yield year throughout this summer, which means the maximum combined releases of water are not expected to exceed 750 cubic feet per second out of the reservoirs.

"With the higher chances of flooding downstream, and we are not expecting significant releases out of the reservoirs, our releases would not significantly impact what you guys are seeing," Batterman said. "But we're going to do our best to hold our releases as low as possible for as long as we can to try and mitigate that flood risk."

Given the snowmelt combined with above-average precipitation expected for most of the areas along the state's James River Basin from now until June, there is no shortage of soil moisture, according to Batterman's data. Batterman's drought monitor says there are no areas within the state's James River Basin that are expected to see any drought-like conditions this year.

Of the high amounts of soil moisture in areas throughout the lower James River Basin, Batterman said Mitchell's soil is experiencing some of the most moisture.

"Downstream in Mitchell, soils are very saturated, and it's going to take a long time for the groundwater to move out," Batterman said.