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Board examines environmental concerns of Devils Lake spill

DEVILS LAKE -- Environmental concerns over a potential uncontrolled spill of Devils Lake continue to be a major issue for an international board charged with monitoring the rising lake.

DEVILS LAKE -- Environmental concerns over a potential uncontrolled spill of Devils Lake continue to be a major issue for an international board charged with monitoring the rising lake.

The International Red River Board gathered technical information Tuesday as it prepared a White Paper on Devils Lake, which ultimately will provide recommendations to the International Joint Commission for possible action.

The IRRB is appointed by the IJC, which exists to prevent and resolve disputes between the U.S. and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

The IRRB includes members from the U.S. and Canadian governments, and agencies in North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba. It is co-chaired by Col. Michael Price, district engineer of the St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and by Michael Renouf, executive director, trans-boundary waters unit, prairie and northern, Environment Canada.

Devils Lake has quadrupled in size and risen by nearly 30 feet since 1993, reaching a record 1,452.05 feet this summer. The lake, currently at about 1,451.5 feet, will spill naturally from Stump Lake to the Tolna Coulee, and ultimately into the Sheyenne and Red Rivers, at an elevation of about 1,458 feet.


The meeting will continue today, with a public session beginning at 10:15 a.m. for comments from the public.

The IRRB met in private Tuesday morning, before opening the meeting for presentations by engineers and geologists on topics such as the likelihood and potential severity of an uncontrolled spill from Stump Lake and measures that might be necessary to deal with such an occurrence.

"The state outlet does not eliminate the possibility of a spill," said Gregg Wiche, North Dakota District chief of the U.S. Geological Survey. The most recent models show the following chances of an uncontrolled spill over the next 20 years, based on current weather patterns and the current state outlet operating at the present 250 cubic feet per second, running from April through November:

- 2011: 0.1 percent.

- 2012: 1.6 percent.

- 2013: 3.3 percent.

- 2014: 4.5 percent.

- 2019: 6.9 percent.


- 2024: 8.1 percent.

- 2029: 9.0 percent.

While the final White Paper has not been completed, the IRRB on Tuesday discussed potential recommendations to the IJC contained in a draft report. Some of those recommendations include:

- If reducing water levels in Devils Lake is the goal, how much water has to be removed over the next 20 years, for example?

- What size of an outlet is needed to accomplish the goal?

- What are the impacts -- including risk of biota transfer, sulfate levels and nutrient levels -- of an outlet (at different capacities) on the Sheyenne and Red rivers and Lake Winnipeg?

- Based on the size of the outlet needed to reduce or maintain water levels and the predicted impacts, is operating an outlet an ecologically feasible solution?

- Appoint a neutral third-party study of disputed issues, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada co-managing the study.


- Evaluate outlet concerns based on: results of a parasite and pathogen study; results of risk assessment; potential continued/expanded water quality monitoring data; and managed/controlled water releases from Devils Lake.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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